Social justice, one step at a time

Reflecting on the many marches, peaceful protests and other events around the world calling attention to the need for justice, love and unity for all, Frater Henry Nguyen, SCJ, wrote the following. Frater Henry, a seminarian and Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology, is just beginning his pastoral year in Mississippi.

In Search of the Value of the Human Person

Earlier this year we were forced to reevaluate the way we live our lives when COVID-19 began to change what we had been accustomed to. We began to live a new normal. It was a time of self-discovery as well as a time of isolation and confinement. Throughout the United States, visible signs of racism became apparent. First, it was toward those of Asian descent because of fear, fear of what people had heard about the virus and where it came from. More recently, there is an increase in awareness of racism toward African Americans. We see oppression, poverty, fear, and social injustice.

Frater Henry helping with food distribution in Mississippi

Today’s Gospel from John [JN 3:16-18] spoke about God’s love for the world, and from that love, the Divine being became a human heart visible to the world. For a long time, we have lived in a world divided because of greed, jealousy, hatred, etc. This must change; the world now more than ever needs to be filled with love, hope, and compassion. The themes of Catholic Social Teaching and Corporal Works of Mercy are interrelated with each other because they call us toward the person and respect of that person’s life and dignity. In the way that I come to recognize others, all lives are precious and sacred, more so for those who are oppressed.

We can only work toward this change together, one by one. I can only come to know someone by working beside them and among them; we all need to do our part. “Only to do justice and to love goodness” as the Prophet Micah reminded us (Micah 6:8). I am reminded that I have a voice, I must stand up.

Fr. Leo Dehon, SCJ, once said, “Defend the dignity of the human person threatened by inequalities, social injustice, demanding exploitation of the workers, and above all, of defenseless women and children.” He wrote this in the 1890s and it applies even more so now! We are all brothers and sisters; we must love and care for one another.

One of the reasons why I am where I am today, preparing to serve as an ordained Dehonian, is because of the lack of love I see in the world. I want to change that, even if I only impact the life of one individual. For “freedom and respect, equality and social justice, charity and solidarity,” I might not have much to give but I have my time and availability to be present with them (Dehon). I need to remain attentive to everything that is around me. No one ever said that doing the right thing was going to be easy to do but it has to be done!

There are so many individuals out there who are suffering; in totality, we have the resources to stop the suffering. It is not enough for us to do something as a one-time occurrence but rather, we need to change our hearts and the hearts of others. Dehonians are called to be “offering ourselves with Christ to a world which hungers for justice and peace” (Dehon).

Where do we go from here?

“One must go out to the people, because they are unhappy, because they suffer, because they are in a state of undeserved wretchedness; because they have nobody to turn to since they no longer have their ancient affiliation. How must one go out to them? Through words and works, through the private world and through the public work, through religious and professional associations.” This was written in the1890s by Fr. Dehon, yet it is something that we can do today, together.

One step at a time, one march at a time, in it together for social justice and the lives of those who are voiceless.