The parish is where the Church lives. Parishes are communities of faith, of action, and of hope. They are where the gospel is proclaimed and celebrated, where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes are the home of the Christian community; they are the heart of our Church. Parishes are the place where God's people meet Jesus in word and sacrament and come in touch with the source of the Church's life.

One of the most encouraging signs of the gospel at work in our midst is the vitality and quality of social justice ministries in our parishes. Across the country, countless local communities of faith are serving those in need, working for justice, and sharing our social teaching as never before. Millions of parishioners are applying the gospel and church teaching in their own families, work, and communities. More and more, the social justice dimensions of our faith are moving from the fringes of parishes to become an integral part of local Catholic life.

We welcome and applaud this growing recognition of and action on the social mission of the parish. We offer these brief reflections to affirm and support pastors and parish leaders in this essential task and to encourage all parishes to take up this challenge with renewed commitment, creativity, and urgency.

In the past decade, we have written major pastoral letters on peace and economic justice and issued pastoral statements on a number of important issues touching human life and human dignity. But until now, we have not specifically addressed the crucial role of parishes in the Church's social ministry. We offer these words of support, encouragement, and challenge at this time because we are convinced that the local parish is the most important ecclesial setting for sharing and acting on our Catholic social heritage. We hope that these reflections can help pastors, parish staffs, parish councils, social concerns committees, and other parishioners strengthen the social justice dimensions of their own parish life. This focus on the social mission of the parish complements and strengthens the call to evangelization found in our statement Go and Make Disciples: A National Plan and Strategy for Catholic Evangelization in the United States.

We offer a framework for integration rather than a specific model or new national program. We seek to affirm and encourage local parish commitment and creativity in social ministry. We know pastors and parish leaders do not need another program to carry forward or more expectations to meet. We see the parish dimensions of social ministry not as an added burden, but as a part of what keeps a parish alive and makes it truly Catholic. Effective social ministry helps the parish not only do more, but be more more of a reflection of the gospel, more of a worshiping and evangelizing people, more of a faithful community. It is an essential part of parish life.

This is not a new message, but it takes on new urgency in light of the increasing clarity and strength of Catholic social teaching and the signs of declining respect for human life and human dignity in society. We preach a gospel of justice and peace in a rapidly changing world and troubled nation. Our faith is tested by the violence, injustice, and moral confusion that surround us. In this relatively affluent nation, a fourth of our children under six grow up in poverty. 1 Each year in our nation, 1.6 million children are destroyed before birth by abortion. 2 And every day, 40,000 children die from hunger and its consequences around the world. 3 In our streets and neighborhoods, violence destroys the hopes, dreams, and lives of too many children. In our local communities, too many cannot find decent work, housing, health care, or education. In our families, parents struggle to raise children with dignity, hope, and basic values.

Our faith stands in marked contrast to these grim realities. At a time of rampant individualism, we stand for family and community. At a time of intense consumerism, we insist it is not what we have, but how we treat one another that counts. In an age that does not value permanence or hard work in relationships, we believe marriage is forever and children are a blessing, not a burden. At a time of growing isolation, we remind our nation of its responsibility to the broader world, to pursue peace, to welcome immigrants, to protect the lives of hurting children and refugees. At a time when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, we insist the moral test of our society is how we treat and care for the weakest among us.

In these challenging days, we believe that the Catholic community needs to be more than ever a source of clear moral vision and effective action. We are called to be the "salt of the earth" and "light of the world" in the words of the Scriptures (cf. Mt 5:13-16). This task belongs to every believer and every parish. It cannot be assigned to a few or simply delegated to diocesan or national structures. The pursuit of justice and peace is an essential part of what makes a parish Catholic.

In urban neighborhoods, in suburban communities, and in rural areas, parishes serve as anchors of hope and communities of caring, help families meet their own needs and reach out to others, and serve as centers of community life and networks of assistance.


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