“Fr. Dehon wanted to sensitize parish priests and seminarians about social problems so that they would leave their sacristies and go to the people.”
-Cardinal Peter Turkson, Dehon Lecturer
Cardinal Peter Turkson was the main speaker at the October 19th Dehon Lecture at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology. The title of his presentation: “A New Social Catechism for the 21st Century?”
Past president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Turkson is Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Prefect emeritus of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Archbishop emeritus of Cape Coast (Ghana). He was a presenter at the SCJs’ General Conference in February, speaking on the social doctrine of the Church.
The cardinal began the lecture by reflecting on the time into which Fr. Leo John Dehon, founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, was born (1843). By then, the Industrial Revolution had turned workers into replaceable cogs amid difficult and often unsafe working conditions. Family life among the large numbers of working poor suffered.
“People turned away from the Church, which they saw as inept in handling the economic, political, and sociological crisis of the poor and lower-class citizens in society,” said Cardinal Turkson. “The Church no longer had influence over government or its people.”
Fr. Dehon recognized this in his first assignment in the French factory town of Saint-Quentin. Cardinal Turkson quoted the founder, who said that “I wanted to contribute to the uplifting of the lower classes… The masses are not yet convinced that the Church alone possesses the true and practical answers to all social questions.”
“Fr. Dehon, said the cardinal, “wanted to sensitize parish priests and seminarians about social problems so that they would leave their sacristies and go to the people.” This social concern was Fr. Dehon’s legacy, he added. It is what urged him to teach Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum, which addressed the condition of the working classes.
Rerum Novarum was followed by 16 social encyclicals including two by Pope Francis: Fratelli Tutti (2020) and Laudato Sì (2015). These social encyclicals, said the cardinal, form the basis of a new “Social Catechism for Integral Ecology.” The Social Encyclicals focus on the wholistic growth and development of the human person.
In the afternoon, two panelists responded to the cardinal’s presentation. Catherine Orr is the Pastoral Associate at Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon, Program Coordinator for the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors, a member of the Catholic Charities USA Parish Social Ministry Leadership Team, and on the board of directors for the Catholic Labor Network. Dr. James Stroud, S.T.D. is an Associate Professor of Moral Theology at SHSST in his ninth year at Sacred Heart; he teaches in the areas of fundamental moral theology, biomedical ethics, social ethics, and philosophical ethics.
“I was truly inspired by something that the cardinal said in his presentation,” began Dr. Stroud in his response. “Something that had not clicked for me… even though I had read some but not all of Fr. Leo John Dehon’s writings…
“What becomes novel with Pope Leo XIII and Rerum Novarum is that he sets out in a certain way to tackle the Industrial Revolution and the rise of socialism that really brings about radical social changes for all European life and has significant ramifications for the Church and the people who make up the Church, the Body of Christ. He is trying to respond to that.
“Fr. Dehon had the same insight, that there needs to be an on-the-ground way to catechize people, including priests, on their responsibilities in living out the social teaching”
“It made me think, in light of Cardinal Turkson’s overview, if perhaps we already have a social catechism unfolding before us, and that begins with the social encyclical of Leo XIII.” In these documents, added Dr. Stroud, there are prescriptions from the popes about what priests, bishops, theologians and the laity need to be doing in the social arena.
Catherine Orr echoed Dr. Stroud in noting the richness of the social encyclicals and how they give direction in how Christians can focus their lives. However, she also spoke specifically to something which Cardinal Turkson said in his homily that morning, something which led her to echo the words of Fr. Leo John Dehon:
“He said that formation comes through two ways: study and prayer. To that I’d like to add ‘action.’ At all levels of formation, our study, our prayer, needs to lead us to act.”
As the cardinal noted in his presentation, Fr. Dehon “wanted to sensitize parish priests and seminarians about social problems so that they would leave their sacristies and go to the people.” In other words, “to act.”
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