For more than 30 years, the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering brings together hundreds of participants from around the nation who focus on pressing domestic and global challenges that affect vulnerable people everywhere. 

This year’s three-day conference drew more than 500 attendees to Washington. The theme, “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” embodied the call for healing in a world broken by conflict, division and inequality.

Organized by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, along with 10 other USCCB departments and 20 national Catholic organizations, the late January conference explored how social justice ministries of the Church are often intertwined, offering opportunities for presentations and discussion on a broad spectrum of topics, including  helping women and children thrive; workers’ rights; community needs; race and housing; food insecurity; refugee resettlement, and care for creation, among others.

One panel discussion, titled “Pro-Worker, Pro-Woman, Pro-Family: Advocating for Policies that Build a Truly Pro-Life Society,” explored the issues that intersect with abortion and how the Church could respond in a holistic way.

Speakers frequently referenced the U.S. bishops’ post-Roe call for “radical solidarity” with both mothers and the unborn, citing a letter they sent to Congress laying out the expanded child tax credit and paid parental leave as top priorities.

The expanded pro-life theme of the conference was apparent to the Diocese of Trenton’s Brenda Rasher, executive director, Office of Catholic Social Services, who said, “All the workshops ... had the underlying theme that all we do ... is pro-life from conception to natural death, echoing the words of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C. M., during a Jan. 20 Mass, when he spoke about ‘standing together for life.’”

Rasher also acknowledged her appreciation for the opportunity to be part of “one workshop presented by the National Catholic Partnership on Disability that was looking at working with those who have mental health needs.”

Of particular interest, she noted, was the effort to work with police in responding to crisis calls involving someone with a mental health issue in a way that was health based, not criminally based – an initiative that Catholic Charities Diocese of Trenton has begun working on.

Rasher also appreciated the discussion about “a program to help persons with mental health issues on an intensive community basis to achieve such benefits as reduced hospitalizations,” something Catholic Charities DOT has been doing for years through their Program of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), she said.

“We should be so proud of the forward thinking of our Catholic Charities here in the Diocese of Trenton,” Rasher reflected.  

The morning Mass on the final day of the gathering served as a “sending forth” of the attendees, who headed to Capitol Hill to advocate on a broad swath of issues related to the Church’s social teaching in meetings with policymakers.

Some information for this article came from OSV News.