As the world watches: St. Peter Church to host social justice programs, proclaim Church teaching
CHARLOTTE — The oldest Catholic church in Charlotte is taking advantage of the national spotlight from the Democratic National Convention by hosting several programs that week to highlight Church teaching on issues of social justice – including immigration reform, workers' rights and wage disparities, the death penalty, and the protection of human rights around the world.
"The topics being presented are the topics that the Holy Father and our bishops have emphasized – the dignity of human life, immigrants' rights, workers' dignity," said Deacon Chip Wilson of Queen of Apostles Church in Belmont, who is handling publicity inquiries for the events being hosted at St. Peter Church. Along with St. Peter's parish social justice ministry, parishioners from Queen of Apostles Church and St. Luke Church in Mint Hill have been working on the programming for the past two months, Deacon Wilson said.
"Many of the Church's teaching and public-policy views do line up with the Democratic Party's aims. But there are places where the Democrats are inconsistent and woefully under-emphasized."
Things will kick off over the Labor Day weekend, when Glenmary Father Les Schmidt will give the homily at the Saturday vigil and Sunday Masses Sept. 1-2. Masses will be celebrated at the regular times: go online to www.stpeterscatholic.org for details.
Father Schmidt, a retired Glenmary Home Missioner priest in residence at Sacred Heart Church in Big Stone Gap, Va., is well known for his work with social justice issues such as workers' rights, mountain-top removal and criminal justice. In addition to his advocacy work, he played a key role in two pastoral letters from the Catholic bishops of Appalachia: "This Land is Home to Me" (1975) and "At Home in the Web of Life" (1995). A second edition of the letters was published in 2000. For more about the work of the Glenmary Home Missioners, go online to www.glenmary.org.
On Wednesday, Sept. 5, Sister Simone Campbell – a Sister of Social Service and executive director of Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby – returns to St. Peter Church to give the first of two presentations during the DNC.
From 10 a.m. to noon, Sister Campbell will speak on "Mind the Gap," a long-running public awareness campaign by Network highlighting the wealth gap in the U.S. To learn more about this campaign, go online to www.networklobby.org/campaign/mind-the-gap.
Sister Campbell will also speak at the DNC, said Stephanie Niedringhaus, Network's communications coordinator.
Then from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., the parish will host the Rev. Johnny B. Hill, a racial justice advocate, teacher, author and Baptist minister. Author of the book, "The First Black President: Barack Obama, Race, Politics, and the American Dream," Hill now serves as president of the Foundation for Reconciliation and Dialogue. He is also theologian-in-residence at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel at Morehouse College in Atlanta and serves on the Justice and Advocacy Commission of the National Council of Churches USA. The title of Hill's presentation is "Building the World House."
From 4 to 6 p.m. the parish, which is staffed by Jesuits, will host a performance of "Imago Dei – Journeys of Courage, Hope and Home," a work of documentary theater written and produced by the students of Jesuit High School of Sacramento for Jesuit Refugee Service/USA. The purpose of the program is to raise awareness of the refugee experience and refugee issues, as well as to invite communities to take action to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees around the world. To learn more, go online to jrsusa.org.
On Thursday, Sept. 6, from 10 a.m. to noon, Sister Campbell will review "Nuns on the Bus," a recent public relations effort by Network to highlight the economic problems in the Midwest. Earlier this summer women religious traveled through nine states, ending in Washington, D.C., to speak out against cuts to social welfare spending in the House budget proposal drafted by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, also a Catholic who has since been named the Republican vice presidential candidate.
"There are going to be a lot of loud voices in Charlotte this week. Hopefully, convention visitors and participants can find this as a place of reflective dialogue. The aim is not to win political arguments, but to win hearts and minds by spreading the Good News of Jesus. And that Good News includes the Church's social teaching," Deacon Wilson noted, adding that everyone is welcome to attend the programs, which are not affiliated with the Democratic Party or the DNC.
"All are welcome, but there hasn't been an effort to invite any political leaders. This isn't about partisanship, but proclamation," he said.
In addition to these programs, daily Mass will be offered at 12:10 p.m. as usual so that the local faithful, visitors and Catholic delegates may gather to worship during the DNC, despite the anticipated traffic congestion and security restrictions that will be in place through much of uptown Charlotte. The sacrament of confession will also be offered on Wednesday starting at 11:30 a.m.
— Patricia L. Guilfoyle, editor