Justice for All

Dec. 2-8, 2004
Justice for All
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
Southern Tier Activist Offers Course on Catholic Social Doctrine

Endicott —- ”Toward the end of the film there are lepers, don’t look away,” urged Joe Coudriet, social justice minister at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. Twelve people sat in complete silence watching a big screen television in the cafeteria at St. Ambrose Parish. Larger-than life faces of ill and poverty stricken people sometimes came uncomfortably close. When Did I See You Hungry? is based on Jesus’ call to feed, clothe and care for those in need. Coudriet used the film as an introduction to the scriptural basis for a three-part course on social justice that started on November 9th.

Gerard Thomas Straub’s movie is a mix of stark black and white photos and color videos from cities around the world. It’s a 37-minute tour that includes images of lepers with misshapen faces and missing limbs, malnourished children, and adults picking through a garbage dump. There were also pictures of their homes—hospitals, shacks and the street. Narrator Martin Sheen quoted Thomas Merton, Martin Luther King Jr., and others. Sheen read some frightening statistics about poverty, including that most people in the world survive on much less than one-dollar a day.

When asked for simple reactions to what they’d seen, participants used a variety of words: “Totally incomprehensible” and “disillusioned.” And a simple, “humbling.” There are a number of reasons why participants are taking the social justice course. “I do not know much about Catholic social justice,” said Catherine Austin of St. Mary’s, Kirkwood, “even though coming up through the 60s and 70s and then wandering from Catholicism and coming back. I need

“Part of being a Catholic educator requires you to take courses for religious certification. “ said John Seward, principal of Our Lady of Sorrows-Seton Campus in Endicott, “When I saw this it sort of rang a bell as a good place to start.” Joey Singleton, a confirmation teacher at St. Ambrose in Endicott is taking the course to incorporate concepts into the classroom. “I’ve been teaching morality and social justice frequently.” Singleton said, “I’m really looking for ways to guide my confirmation class.” “We need more acknowledgment of social justice,” added Sophie Bednar of Ss. Peter and Paul, Endicott.

“I’m hoping it will affect your heart,” Joe Coudriet told the group. “You’re here today on November 9, 2004. A lot of this has been around for all your life. And you’re hearing some of it for the first time. My question is why? Why aren’t we telling Catholics about Catholic social teaching? Why don’t they know?” Coudriet got involved in social justice activities 24 years ago when he had three sons facing the prospect of draft registration. He was spurred to attend a meeting of the Diocesan Social Justice Commission. In 1985, he and four others formed the Justice and Peace Advisory Council (JPAC). Nearly 100 years after the first encyclical on social teaching, Coudriet wanted to get parishes working together on a number of issues. Coudriet noted that the Church has been slow to react to the concepts over the years, but this year, there’s something new. “On October 25, the Vatican announced that they have something called the Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine. So I’m thinking of changing the name of this class to Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine. It really now has the imprimatur of being a doctrine. Before it was just teaching,” Coudriet said.

There are seven themes of Catholic social justice: the life and dignity of the human person; the rights and responsibilities of the human person; the call to family, community and participation; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; the option for the poor and vulnerable; solidarity; and care for God’s creation. “As far as I am concerned, economic justice is the most important social justice issue there is, because it affects so many people. It affects everybody in the world,” Coudriet said. “That’s the thing that needs the most emphasis. But from that, you can work on other kinds of injustices, like racism and sexism and homophobia.”

Coudriet hopes that his students will come away from the classes determined to do something. He’ll suggest they look at the clothes on their backs to see if they’ve been made by people in sweatshops. Another option is taking a poverty pledge, an idea of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to make a commitment to work against poverty. Those who attended the first class seem ready to take up the call to social justice. “When you look at the movie you think, there but for the grace of God go I,” said Janice Barniak, who volunteers at the St. Ambrose Food Pantry. Sandy Leuci of St. James in Johnson City looks to “family, community participation within the whole world.” “These are our responsibilities,” said John Seward. Joey Singleton is looking ahead to the challenge, “So many places that need work, where do we start?”

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