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2023 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering showed 'new way to be Church'

Ali Mumbach shares her experience as an attendee at the latest Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, a conference organized each year by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sr Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN is interviewed during the opening plenary session of the 2023 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC. (Poverty USA/Twitter)

The 2023 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) was held last week in Washington, DC, organized by the US Catholic bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, a litany of other USCCB departments, and 20 national Catholic organizations.

This international event gathered a diverse group of Catholics who are involved in or have a heart for social ministry work—including areas such as immigration, racial justice, and environmental equity. The Gathering finished with a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill where participants meet with their congressional representatives to advocate for priority issues.

The theme for CSMG this year was “Blessed are the Peacemakers” (drawn from the Gospel passage of Matthew 5:9). Sr Patricia Chappell, SNDdeN noted in the opening plenary on Saturday afternoon, however, that “working for peace don’t always feel blessed.” It doesn’t always feel comfortable working for justice and peace. In fact, if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not doing it right. Our hearts should break at injustice and disunity. This happened often over the weekend as we heard about issues such as the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the border, housing inequality, and the effects of gun violence.

This was my first time attending CSMG. I learned of it in December, and being very passionate about social justice movements and the Church, I thought it sounded like something I should check out. My biggest takeaway from the event was that Catholic social teaching needs to be better promoted by the Church and to the Church. Catholic social teaching addresses many (if not all) of the challenges we face in modern society.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS during the Catholic Campaign for Human Development panel at CSMG 2023. (Greg Walgenbach/Twitter)

Often it can seem as though Catholics only concern themselves with the spiritual realm. Do we forget that God made us body and soul? Do we not realize that in praying the Our Father, we are asking him to bring heaven down to earth? Do we not recognize that the conditions of humanity and society are included in our mission to be Church?

Millennials and Generation Z are so disillusioned with the Church. They don’t see Christians living and loving in a way that reflects the Gospel. It’s cheap talk at this point. If we Catholics lived out Catholic Social Teaching, the faith would become attractive again—especially in this generation of social activists. Some of the key themes of Catholic Social Teaching are the preferential treatment for the poor and vulnerable, proclaiming the dignity of the human person, the dignity of work and rights of workers, and care for God’s creation. I truly believe that if more people knew the work and ministries that exist in the Church to alleviate oppression, there would be more openness to what the Church preaches.

Overall, CSMG demonstrated to me that there is so much goodness that the Church is working towards. Most of us just don’t know about it. One of the persistent questions in the Church today is: “How do we keep and bring in more young people to the Church?”

I agree with Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS of San Antonio, who said on Sunday’s panel that “we don’t need a new Church. But we need a new way to be Church.”

Ali Mumbach is a Houston, Texas native in her first year of graduate school at Howard University, studying to get her master’s degree in sociology. She is the graduate assistant for the HU Bison Catholic campus ministry.

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