Social justice, politics and Latino culture are three areas that are fields for evangelization, a Hispanic ministry leader told young Catholic professionals at a recent event in Washington, D.C. “Our love of God isn’t real, is not verified, if it is not expressed in love of neighbor — love particularly of the poor and the excluded and the marginal,” said Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck, S.J. A professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in California, Fr. Deck was the former director of the office of Cultural Diversity in the Church for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, and has published work on Hispanic ministry and the intersection of faith and culture. Fr. Deck was part of a three-person panel addressing a crowd of young professionals at Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life last week. The focus of the event was on “challenges for young Catholic Latino leaders.” “We’ve got 53 million Latinos in the United States,” Fr. Deck said, calling for leadership in both the political and religious arenas. In putting the Gospel into practice, he advised, it is important to remember that true justice “is built and flows from our faith” and not from political ideology. “We don’t ground what we’re about on ideology. We ground it on our faith commitment, and fundamentally, on the Gospel.” If justice is divorced from evangelization, he continued, then justice is only seen through a political lens and evangelization risks becoming purely “spiritualized.” In reality, the two must be connected, Fr. Deck said, describing true evangelization as “really very, very nitty-gritty.” “It’s about being with the poor. It’s about serving the poor. It’s about understanding what their immediate needs are and what the structural underlying causes of their suffering is, and to work to change those conditions.” While the Church explains this attentiveness to the poor in her teaching of solidarity, he said, it can sometimes be downplayed by the American ideal of individual achievement. “In the United States, it’s a little difficult to raise this particular concept of solidarity with people,” Fr. Deck said, because it is commonly taught that “it’s all about working our way up the ladder of success.” Another avenue for evangelization and social justice is through the symbols, rituals and stories of “popular Catholicism” in Latin American culture, he continued, pointing to the unique cultural aspects of the particular “Catholicism that Latinos celebrate and live.” A prime example of this was Cesar Chavez, a Catholic who marched under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the 1960s for fair wages for California farm workers, Fr. Deck said. He also pointed to the Argentinian shrines of Our Lady of Lujan and San Cayetano as examples of Latin Catholics rooting their struggle for justice in prayer and pilgrimage. “There’s devotion, there’s prayer, there’s solidarity,” he said of the shrines. Fr. Deck did encourage the young Latinos to get involved in politics, but not the partisan kind. Pope Francis quotes Pope Pius XI, he said, saying that politics is one of the “highest forms of love.” This is not partisan politics, he clarified, but politics of “social concern,” for “especially for the most excluded and forgotten people.”
Catholic News Agency was founded in 2004, in response to Pope St. John Paul II’s call for a “New Evangelization." It is an apostolate of EWTN News.