Four Catholic leaders and parishioners of churches in some of the country’s poorest communities talked about heeding Pope Francis’s call to advocate for the poor at the third annual Dean’s Colloquium on Religion and Public Culture. STM Dean Mark Massa, S.J., moderated the discussion, “The Transformative Power of Faith,” among (pictured, left to right) José Lopez, Digna R. Lopez, John Hatcher, S.J., and Mary Susanne Dziedzic, C.S.S.F., on March 31 in Robsham Theater. Each panelist has been a recipient or finalist for the Lumen Christi Award, Catholic Extension’s annual recognition of men and women who work to transform lives and communities in America’s mission dioceses. Community members whose lives have been affected by the ministry of the Lumen Christi honorees also contributed to the discussion, which was cosponsored by Catholic Extension.
“You have to create leadership among the laity, and your leaders are your bridge-builders,” said Digna Lopez, the Hispanic ministry director of the Stockton, California, diocese. To connect with a community rife with violent crime and drugs, Lopez said she recruits a few at-risk youths and “trusts that they will be the evangelizers of their own peers.”
Hatcher, president of St. Francis Mission, a Jesuit ministry on a South Dakota Sioux reservation, said the Church often assumes “a very clerical relationship with lay people,” which can make parishioners feel “like children.” To foster more mature relationships, Hatcher entrusts Catholic Sioux with key roles—at recovery centers and suicide hotlines, for example.
Lopez’s husband, José, the diocese’s migrant ministry director, added that missionaries should “look at the reality of what [congregants] need, not at what you want from them.” Since he adjusted his schedule around the migrant farmers’ harvest season, Lopez said, the farmers’ involvement in the Church has increased significantly.