Social justice and the New Evangelization

Dr. Jonathan Reyes
Dr. Jonathan Reyes

SEWELL — “We must build a culture of ‘encuentro,’ a culture of encounter.”

Beginning by laying out his theme, along with “the call to greatness,” Dr. Jonathan Reyes, executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave two presentations here at Church of the Holy Family on Dec. 9.

An afternoon session was held for parish diocesan staff, and an evening session was held for the general public, for Dr. Reyes’ focus on “Social Justice and the New Evangelization.”

“When the church asks the question about social justice, it starts with the human being,” he said.

“We are all born into an epic, where we are destined for greatness, destined for eternity, and made in the image and likeness of God. Every human being has the freedom and right to pursue this greatness, and they should have the conditions they need to be the greatest they are called to be.”

In a society that, as Pope Francis said, has too many individuals who are struggling with “isolation, discouragement, and despair,” we must practice encuentro, and see other people through God’s eyes, and let them know who they are called to be.

“When we have the courage to say ‘yes,’ and choose to live encuentro, we find ourselves,” in addition to helping others find themselves, he said.

Several listeners vowed to continue his message in their own communities.

“Dr. Reyes’ talk questioned my motives in ministry,” said Amanda Salgado, a University of Notre Dame ECHO apprentice who is spending the year serving the Parish of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, in Collingswood.

“The key to bringing about the greater mission of God is to help people realize and understand their inherent dignity,” she added.

Mike Jordan Laskey, director of Life and Justice for the Diocese of Camden, believed that “Dr. Reyes’ two presentations “emphasized the importance of getting to know people who are living on the margins of society, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.”

“It’s only through those relationships that we can build a culture that respects the dignity of every person,” he said.

Two parishes in the diocese — Blessed Teresa and Catholic Community of the Holy Spirit in Mullica Hill — have already begun “organizing opportunities for encuentro, including visits to a homeless shelter and Cathedral Kitchen in Camden,” Laskey said. “The hope is to expand these training sessions to help more parishes get more deeply involved in this essential ministry.”