The secret to healing the church is looking outward, not inward

By Michael Sean Winters, 13 October 2022
Pope Francis greets migrants during a visit to the Mytilene refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, as part of his Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece in December 2021. Image: Vatican News/Supplied


Last month, I looked at the U.S. bishops’ conference national synthesis of synodal reports, concluding that the process seems to have been more successful than anticipated and commending those who wrote the report for its frankness and comprehensive quality.

I also noted that one section of that report warranted greater attention, the section titled “Social Mission of the Church,” and today will offer that attention. It is only one paragraph long:

The need for ongoing formation was keenly seen in the area of social mission, “not surprisingly, since our social teaching is routinely described as our church’s best-kept secret, there were very few explicit mentions of Catholic social doctrine or even the issues of justice in the region. However, when we consider the component themes of Catholic social teaching and the issues addressed, these concerns did surface regularly throughout the region.” Synodal consultations acknowledged that “the Church needs to help parishioners understand the connection between Catholic social teaching and outreach beyond the borders of the parish.”

Catholic social teaching is one of the primary ways for the church to go out of itself. It helps organize our Christian impulse to solidarity and gives shape to the Holy Father’s call for a culture of encounter. It is not, as some of his critics suggest, a reduction of the church to a kind of nongovernmental organization with a liturgy.

What they miss, and what I fear some of the synodal sessions have missed, is this: We do not go to the peripheries to evangelize. In a meaningful sense, it is the poor and the marginalized who evangelize us. It is usually they who remind us of what it means to be a Christian.

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Michael Sean Winters covers the nexus of religion and politics for NCR.

With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.


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