By Rayanne Bennett|Executive Director of Communications

Feeding the hungry. Sheltering the homeless. Protecting human life from conception to natural death. Preserving religious freedom. Fighting for fairness in school choice. Standing up for the dignity of all human persons and the integrity of the family.

The landscape of Catholic social teaching is vast and complex, engaging people of different demographics and ideologies who sometimes focus on one specific aspect of Church doctrine to the exclusion of others. And so we may find that there are members of our Catholic family who are passionate about the Church’s Respect Life initiatives, but may not be too connected with the other tenets of Catholic social teaching. Conversely there are individuals who are committed to the fight for fair immigration reform or the restoration of food stamp benefits, but are not moved to take action against abortion or embryonic stem cell research. Often one group zones in on information for the cause that they feel closest to, and do not get exposed to information about other elements of social justice.

Yet, our Church leaders tell us that as Catholics and believers in the Gospel, we are called to take action on behalf of all of our brothers and sisters, regardless of our political party or ideology and despite any disconnect that may exist between different groups.

To better prepare all of the faithful to expand their awareness and ability to respond, the Diocese of Trenton has launched the Catholic Advocacy Network, a web-based initiative that will equip members of the Diocese with information and alerts relating to the full range of issues covered within Catholic social teaching. The network is intended to familiarize users with legislative issues and social action needs communicated by the national and state bishops’ conferences or other authoritative Church agencies. It is a centralized source of information giving “alerts” on current issues and events.

While it is new to the Diocese, the advocacy network embraces the long-standing tradition of the Church to speak out against injustice and take action to help others. “Gaudium et Spes,” the last document of Vatican II, made it clear that the Church has a responsibility to be involved in the world’s social actions. 

Echoing that key message, Pope Francis’ own apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) issued in November says that the heart of the Christian moral message is love for one another, which must motivate Christians to share the Gospel, help the poor and work for social justice.

Over the past decades, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have addressed this important part of the Church’s mission numerous times, including its 2003 pastoral letter entitled “Faithful Citizenship.” In it, the bishops write,    “…All believers are called to be faithful citizens, to become informed, active and responsible participants in the political process…Believers are called to be a community of conscience within the larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching.”

There will be many ways that people can respond to the alerts that will be posted.  At times, the aim is to inform and educate about an issue as it evolves. Sharing the information with those you have contact with (via social media, for example) will help to build awareness, which is a critical need with many issues. At other times, alerts will point to the need for action, whether it be to contact legislators about an upcoming vote, or to volunteer to help with an urgent effort (as in the recent shortage discovered in Trenton area food pantries).