Listening to His Design: Six deacons dive into Catholic Social Teaching at Washington, D.C., workshop
WASHINGTON, D.C.— In fraternity and prayer, six of the diocese’s deacons followed God’s call to learn the complexities of Catholic Social Teaching in late October.
Chosen to attend the annual Catholic Social Teaching program hosted by Catholic University of America from Oct. 22 to 27 were Deacon Rigoberto Leyva of Fort Worth’s St. Peter the Apostle Parish; Deacon Scott France of Aledo’s Holy Redeemer Parish; Deacon Mark Gannaway of Fort Worth’s Holy Family Parish; Deacon Gustavo Garcia of Arlington’s St. Matthew Parish; Deacon Mauricio Hernandez of St. John the Baptizer in Bridgeport, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Decatur, and St. Mary in Jacksboro Parishes; and Deacon Paul Mahoney of Grapevine’s St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
The deacons entered the conference with “no preconceived notions for the experience other than ‘I’m going to learn,’” Dcn. France said. Expecting a couple of hundred people in attendance, the group was surprised when they realized how intimate this learning environment would actually turn out to be.
“Of the 15 people there, six were deacons representing the diocese, but there were also two other people from our diocese as well as [Deacon] Joel Rodriguez, who is a deacon for the diocese but was sent because he works for the Christus Catholic Hospital group. But when you look at it, of the 15 there, 9 of them were from the Diocese of Fort Worth,” remarked Dcn. Gannaway. The graduate-level program, they told him, is held once a year for groups between 15 to 20 people to best foster authentic dialogue.
The extensive coursework, Dcn. Gannaway said, was “all put together by Pope St. John Paul II’s wishes to put together a program that teaches the truth, what the Church really believes in its social teaching, so it’s a combination of encyclicals that start with [Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical] Rerum Novarum [On Capital and Labor].”
Throughout the course of the week, the deacons learned from and engaged with a bevy of dynamic speakers, including CUA President Dr. Peter Kilpatrick, George Mason University’s Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Hellen Alvaré, and prominent lawyer and CUA Director of the Program in Human Rights William L. Saunders, on a wide range of issues branching from the core of Catholic Social Teaching.
The end result of the whirlwind week of seminars, Dcn. France said, was a certification, a challenge, and a replenished faith.
“We received our certification. But to me, what they’ve given — it’s sort of a challenge. They’ve filled you with information and then you’re sent back… I spent 60+ hours there, and when I walked out, I was dizzy with knowledge,” Dcn. France said. “The whole environment lent to this. We started the day with morning prayer; we did evening prayer and then Mass… I left very joyful, very hopeful. I’m glad I went through it with the other deacons because now I have others who understand and talk through ‘How are you doing this? How are you presenting this?’”
But what is social teaching exactly?
Most people don’t have a good understanding of the social teaching of the Church, Deacon Don Warner, the diocesan director of deacon, said. “Sometimes, it gets all wrapped up in politics. It’s not about a political stance; it’s about being true to what we’re called to do as Christians and following Christ. Sometimes, I think people think it’s more of a political thing than it is ‘This is what we’re called to do as Christians.’
“It’s not a Democrat, Republican thing; it’s not a liberal or conservative issue. This is what we’re called to do as disciples of Christ,” he continued. “Throughout history, the Church has had a consistent teaching on what that means in the community while following Christ — in taking care of immigrants; in taking care of the less fortunate; and taking care of those who are marginalized.
“It’s kind of a wake-up and look at the bigger picture, not just a political problem: How can we best live our faith through our actions in the way that we confront social issues?”
With an emphasis on prioritizing the sharing of education on the alignment of God’s intentions and values at the heart of societal social structures, the Vatican’s Catholic Social Teaching in Action website CAPP-USA.org breaks down Social Teaching using three principles: human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity.
Human dignity, Dcn. Leyva summarized, is in essence the practice of “not treating people as objects.” Solidarity, he continued, is “how the Church should be accompanying people, walking with them, being with them, and subsidiarity is how the Church is giving the flock and those in need the tools to be successful in life.”
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the prime principle of Catholic social doctrine, human dignity, is “rooted in a correct view of the human person” (1700).
Viewing a human person as God’s own image and likeness and therefore valuing that dignity is our foremost duty and, as Pope Benedict XVI once stated, “takes precedence over all political decision-making.”
The challenge, Dcn. Leyva anticipates, will be bringing the insight, the awareness, and “the beautiful feeling that we had between us [the deacons] where we all felt like we were all equal —everybody is equal in the vineyard of the Lord — how can we bring this to the parishes, to the people, to the people of God, so they realize that we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord and the Church.”
“We do not discriminate against anyone,” the diocesan director of Hispanic ministry continued. “I don’t see you as a product or a matter — you have the dignity of God in you. As a person, you are important to me as who you are.”
He plans to meet with the group of deacons once again this year to reflect on what they’ve learned and how to best share it with the diocese. Until then, he said, he works hard to share that sense of human dignity with every person he comes across.
Pope St. John Paul II described solidarity as a “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good.” Pope Francis has said solidarity occurs when all “men and women are called to live as one, each taking care of the other.”
In his homily the Sunday following their return from the intensive certification program, Dcn. Gannaway drew from this principle as he spoke with the faithful in his parish: “Let’s identify what a neighbor really is. Because when we define neighbor, we define it as that person outside of my home, the next-door neighbor, the guy on the corner on the street, the neighbor is anybody there. But it is also your spouse, your children, your family members — it’s all those people that are within your unit, but then it also goes outside — it’s the acquaintance, the people you work with, etc.”
The Catholic convert believed that the number of resources and conversations over the social issues discussed and analyzed using the lens of Catholic Social Teaching could be instrumental in evangelizing and educating Catholics, other Christians, and atheists.
“This Catholic social teaching that we have is such a unique and beautiful gift that if you’re looking for a way to disciple other people, take this teaching — you can take it from the CAPP-USA.org website,” Dcn. Gannaway stated. “And when a person approaches you or you see one of these hot issues [abortion, transgenderism, racism, climate change, etc.] occurring in their life, what you’ll learn, what we’ve learned, is perfect for you to use in that process because it addresses everything — all life events.”
The permanent deacon of three years plans to meet with each one of his parish ministries and organizations to debrief on the large amount of resources from the Vatican and encyclicals. As he shared with his parish faithful, “This is a really perfect time for us to evangelize, but when we do, we must get it right.”
Simplified, CAPP-USA defines subsidiarity as a principle that “informs how and what level divisions should be made, ensuring that the interests of a person do not clash with the interests of society.”
With his experienced perspective on business matters and consumerism, former business owner and retired finance professional Dcn. France received the teaching from the “employment standpoint.”
And as he considered his role and why he, particularly, was called to this opportunity, he wondered:
“One of the things that I found very interesting,” he said, “was that I always thought Catholic social teaching would lean way more to the left, but it doesn’t… Two or three of the professors touched on this present in the encyclicals: the importance of work in the three virtues. That’s what really stuck home with me when we’re talking about subsidiarity and solidarity, those two especially. How does that all tie together in when I’m at work; when I’m leading people; when I’m managing people?”
Reflecting, Dcn. France recalled a question once posed to him: “‘Have you ever considered that your job is your ministry?’ she asked. What? I was in the corporate world. She said, ‘Have you ever figured that was your ministry?’ And I’d never tied two and two together. But that is, in essence, what we need to do here: tie everything that we do into the framework of subsidiarity, solidarity, and human dignity.”
In the same way he’d been coached, Dcn. France plans to consolidate the vast amounts of learning and share it in pieces of wisdom to help others grow. He plans to coach others on developing the critical thinking to dig down into a deeper understanding of the social questions at hand, having people consider, “Why do people feel the way they do? Why do people think the way they do?”