By Anne Marie Cox
DES MOINES — Des Moines Bishop Richard Pates, keynote speaker at the 19th annual Iowa Institute for Social Action on Oct. 6, used personal experience and teachings of the Church to explain conflicts throughout the world and what individuals at home can do to encourage peace.
“Clearly the benefit of having a statewide conference is to be able to network with folks from other dioceses. There are resources available that we can share in our attempt to address such large global efforts as justice and peace,” said Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action director. “One example is the work that our diocese’s justice and peace advocacy team has undertaken regarding human trafficking. We were able to share that with people from around the state.”
Deacon Chuck Cooper of Holy Family Parish in Mason City said, “We are known as Catholics but I don’t think we are often small ‘c’ Catholics, having a real sense of universality, solidarity, with our brothers and sisters around the globe.”
“It is through our liturgy and our struggles with social justice that we see Jesus in others and in ourselves,” he said. “It is through such gatherings as this workshop that we become more aware of that sacred presence in our daily lives and are called to action and service locally, nationally and worldwide.”
In his role as chair the U.S. bishops’ Committee for International Justice and Peace, Bishop Pates has visited Venezuela, Cuba, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria in recent months.
“I had the chance to visit the Congo recently,” he told the crowd at St. Theresa Parish in Des Moines. “I met with Church, government, civil society and religious leaders to discuss the issues they face. I was so impressed with their hopes for the nation.
“Even though you may not hear much about the war in the Congo, and despite there being no U.S. troops deployed there, the situation warrants our concern as the scale and intractability of the violence is an affront to world peace,” he said.
“The Church teaches that peace does not consist simply in the absence of war or violence,” said Bishop Pates. “True peace can only be built on the firm foundation of justice. The Church speaks of creating ‘an authentic culture of peace’ in which ‘the defense and promotion of human rights is essential for the building up a peaceful society,’” he said, quoting the “Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church.”
He referred to Pope Paul VI’s coining of the phrase: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
Bishop Pates covered in his talk conflicts in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Latin America. He also encouraged individuals to be proactive in seeking peace. How?
First, he encouraged people to contact officials in Washington, D.C., to support initiatives that contribute to peace. Poverty-focused international assistance is an investment in peace that ought to be preserved and strengthened, he said.
Second, he said the United States should provide support to the family through the work of Catholic Relief Services.
“We are one human family and our fate as Americans is linked to the fates of people half a world away,” he said.
Third, he encouraged the group not to underestimate the power of praying for peace.
Margaret Marie, of St. James Parish in Washington, Iowa, said she was interested in learning more about the immigration ruling by President Obama for young people who were brought to the United States by their parents. She attended a breakout session on human trafficking and said the issue right here in Iowa is “mindboggling.”
Lynn Keller, of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, learned about advocacy.
“I’d like to incorporate some of these ideas of advocacy in our parish, just in small ways, maybe with emails,” she said.
Linda Pierce, also of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, said she learned from Bishop Pates about issues in the Middle East and about advocacy for children.
“I was very impressed with the speakers,” she said. “They’re really informative and motivated. I understand the issues better.”