Organizing for Justice
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"The most important place to share Catholic social teaching is in the parish, not as an optional or fringe aspect of our faith,

 but as a central element of what it means to be Catholic."


A Catholic Framework for Economic Life

U.S. Bishops,




Office of Social Development & World Peace
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194 (202) 541-3000


Organizing for Justice

In November, 1986, the Catholic bishops of the United States issued a landmark pastoral letter on the U.S. economy called Economic Justice for All. It challenged our nation to put concern for the poor and vulnerable and pursuit of the common good at the center of our economic life.

Ten years later as they marked the pastoral letter's anniversary, the bishops recognized that while our economy has changed dramatically, the challenges facing us are no less compelling, and the principles they outlined ten years ago are no less important. At a time of growing national attention on such issues as globalization, income stagnation, and increasing wage disparities, the Catholic tradition of ethical reflection on economic issues has much to offer. In November, 1996, the bishops issued a brief ten-point summary of Catholic teaching on the economy titled A Catholic Framework for Economic Life. They called on the Catholic community to share these ten principles as broadly as possible.

The most important place to share Catholic social teaching is in the parish, not as an optional or fringe aspect of our faith, but as a central element of what it means to be Catholic. This resource is designed to help those responsible for social concerns in the parish to incorporate Catholic teaching on economic life into their ministry by supporting community organizations that work for economic and political self-help and empowerment.


As the Bishops of the United States call Catholics to work for economic justice, they remind us that those who are suffering injustice have both a right and a responsibility to join unions and other voluntary associations which will enable them to meet their own needs and achieve their own goals. In fact, the Church, through the Campaign for Human Development, has been a strong and consistent supporter of self-help community organization efforts over the past 25 years. Hundreds of Catholic parishes throughout the country have either joined interfaith, church-based organizations or are supportive of their development. What follows are suggestions and ideas for local parishes that are interested in connecting with one of these vital efforts.



1. Prayerfully consider the needs of the community and the call of the bishops to participate in and/or support low-income communities organizing to achieve goals and to improve their own communities. Ask for God's guidance in finding the resource persons who can inform your group of existing opportunities or, if appropriate, assist you to initiate such an effort.

2. Contact your diocesan director of the Campaign for Human Development. This individual will be able to tell you about organizing and/or economic development projects in your community. You will also be able to learn of other parishes or religious organizations engaged in these activities. Usually these projects will have their own local staff persons. Ask for the names, addresses, and phone numbers for the offices of these organizations.

3. Call directly to these organizations and meet with the appropriate staff person, leader or board member. Be prepared to share why your own parish wishes to be involved in the organization and what it is you might have to bring to such an effort. Your CHD diocesan director will be helpful to you in preparing for these meetings.

4. Attend some of the activities of the organization before you formally join. Is there training for leaders? Are the local parishes and congregations growing spiritually and physically as a result of their participation in the organization?

Is your participation being welcomed and supported? Is the organization achieving real results? Are there annual dues? If so, how much are they? It is important to know what you are joining before your parish gets deeply involved.


5. Offer training for your own parish leaders on the difference between charity (direct service) and organizing for justice. This kind of workshop could be offered as an adult education activity during Advent or Lent. A clear theological framework for empowerment activities is often helpful to parishioners as they determine their own participation. Your diocesan Social Action and Campaign for Human Development Directors can be helpful in putting together such a session.

6. Invite a staff person or leaders from a CHD funded group to address your adult religious education class or other appropriate parish organization. The direct contact with someone involved in the organizing efforts helps parishioners see the importance and dignity offered by the organizations' activity. Inviting a Campaign for Human Development funded group's leader to speak after Masses on the week before the CHD Collection assists parishioners to understand where their money is going and encourages them to give more generously to the effort.


    Organize! Organizing for Social Change. Kim Bobo, Seven Locks Press, 1991.


The Organizer Mailing. Quarterly clipping service of community organizing activities around the country. San Francisco, CA: The Organize Training Center. Telephone: 415-821-6180.


Salt of the Earth. Monthly magazine. Subscription $18/year. Contact Salt of the Earth. 205 W. Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60606. Telephone: 312-236-7782.



The Campaign for Human Development
3211 Fourth Street N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20017
Telephone 202-541-3210
This anti-poverty program of the U.S. bishops provides funding and other assistance to low-income community organizing and community-based economic development groups around the country. It also assists dioceses in working with these groups. The national office can put you in touch with your diocesan CHD director and can identify CHD-funded groups in your community.

National Pastoral Life Center
299 Elizabeth Street
New York, NY 10012-2806
Telephone: 212-431-7825
This professional association of Catholic Social Action Directors offers information on national networks that sponsor local community organizing projects and provides advice on what dioceses and parishes can expect when they become involved in these groups. They can also put you in touch with your diocesan social action director.


Here are a few of the many resources available on the topic of building community and organizing for justice.


Activism That Makes Sense: Congregations and Community Organization. Gregory F. Augustine Pierce. ACTA Publications, 1984.

Church-based Organizing. Prepared by the ROUNDTABLE. A guide for diocesan social action offices on how to work with church-based community organizations. Includes list of major training centers for church-based organizing networks. Telephone: 212-431-7825.

Community Organization: The "How-to" Videos. Bruce Orenstein. ACTA Publications, 1994.

"Congregation-Based Organizations: A Church Model for the 90's" in America (November 13, 1993).

"Consumer's Guide to Organizer Training" in The Neighborhood Works (October-November, 1991).

Doing Faithjustice: An Introduction to Catholic Social Thought. Fred Kammer, SJ. Paulist Press, 1977.

The Jesus We Knew. James R. Jennings. Triumph Books. Examines the example of Jesus as a call to participate in the transformation of society.

Moving Faith into Action. James R. Lund and Mary L. Heidkamp. Paulist Press. Assists a parish social concerns committee in developing social action efforts.


Office of Social Development & World Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops