Incorporating Social Justice in Religious Education
“We need to build on the good work already underway to ensure that every Catholic understands how the Gospel and church teaching call us to choose life, to serve the least among us, to hunger and thirst for justice, and to be peacemakers. The sharing of our social tradition is a defining measure of Catholic education and formation.” (Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions)
Summer is often a time to take a break, reflect on what went well and plan for the next academic year. As you develop classes for the fall, how will you share our rich tradition of Catholic social teaching? Every catechists schedule, classroom, and interests are unique. Here are three different methods to consider as you begin to plan.
Starting with prayer:
If you are teaching with a set format for your classroom time, consider integrating social justice into your opening prayer. One of the Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching is “Care for Creation.” There are many passages from scripture related to creation. Holidays and feast days also provide an opportunity to share Catholic social teaching.” Important national and international day related to Care for Creation include March 22 – World Water Day; April 22 – Earth Day; and Oct. 16 – World Food Day. Depending on your region, Feb. 1 – St. Brigid – patron of dairy workers; St. Isidore – patron saint of farmers, farmworkers; or May 16 – St. John Nepomucene – patron against floods may be a feast day that you could recognize. In the United States, the Catholic Climate Covenant puts together resources for parishes to celebrate the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi – patron saint of ecology, animals on October 4th.
Reading a story:
In the past few years, the United States Catholic Conference created a wonderful visual to share social teaching with youth: The Two Feet of Love in Action. We often use the image of following in the footsteps of Jesus. The two feet of love teaches that Jesus did two things. Jesus used knowledge of what is right and fair to improve a structure or policy. This is the foot of social justice. Jesus showed people that he cared by tending to an immediate need. This is foot of charitable works. The story Drop by Drop illustrates these two feet. This book could be read in a classroom and there are activity sheets that go along with it.
Religious education programs often incorporate works of charity, such as food drives and diaper collections. These are much needed collections and a very clear example of walking with the foot of charitable works. If you are walking with the two feet of love in action, the next step would social justice- removing root causes and improving structures. This requires looking at the big picture and not necessarily seeing immediate results. If you use the story Drop by Drop, a social justice action could be have your class write e a letter to one of your elected officials, telling him or her that you care about poverty and want the U.S. government to help people in need overseas. Catholic Relief Services provides many resources for integrating a global perspective into classroom, especially during Lent, through their CRS Rice Bowl program.