Speakers examine what it means to be ‘servant church’

NEW YORK – Speakers at the 15th annual meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists heard diverse contemporary examples of those following Jesus’ exhortation from the Gospel of Mark: “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

“Jesus Christ is the model for how Catholics should carry out servanthood,” which must be connected to bringing the reign of God into being, said Peter Amato, who teaches theology at St. John’s University. “If you are not being a servant, you are not following Jesus.”

Amato was among several speakers at an Oct. 27 panel about Catholicism transforming culture. The session was part of the society’s Oct. 26-27 gathering at St. John’s University School of Law in Queens.

Bill Antalics, a tenant organizer, urban homesteader and longtime member of the Catholic Worker community in New York, said: “We are a bourgeois nation. … Our activities and lifestyles aren’t really bad. They just aren’t much of anything at all. They are without substance.”

Consequently, he said, “we allow our minds and hearts to be filled with consumerism and materialism … and cut ourselves off from the great questions, themes and problems of life.” Self-knowledge will inspire and inform “courage, selfless commitment and involvement in solving the great problems of the world,” he said.

Father John Corbett, a priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., who ministers to seamen at Port Newark, N.J., lived at a Catholic Worker house before his ordination. He said that Catholic Worker houses of hospitality “concretely implement the social teachings of the church: to reconstruct society, not just in words, but in practice.”

Salvatore Primeggia, a professor of sociology at Adelphi University in Garden City, and Philip Franco, director of faith formation for the Brooklyn Diocese, spoke about the importance of Italian festivals in evangelizing young people. Primeggia described the annual “giglio” feast in Brooklyn, which honors San Paulino (St. Paulinus) and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The feast features religious, secular and cultural celebrations during 15 days each July. The centerpiece is a choreographed procession, through the Williamsburg neighborhood, of a 4-ton structure called the “giglio” carrying a five-story tower and a 10-piece band. The structure is carried by 112 men known as lifters.

Franco said that the feast is an expression of popular religion which emanates from the people, not the church. The yearlong preparation, said Franco, brings young people into the church and immerses them in Italian Catholic culture.

The giglio feast brings together the sacred and the profane, said Primeggia.

“The men offer the sacrifice of lifting the structure in penance and thanksgiving. They thank the saint and la Madonna for the things they have prayed for. The feast honors community, ethnicity and family and passes on through the generations what is important,” he explained.

Charles Russo, who teaches at the University of Dayton, Ohio, traced the history of Catholic association with worker unions. He said that there is a disparity between church teaching on the subject and actual implementation.

“We have to get the theory and the practice to line up,” he said. “Church teaching says that we need to treat our workers justly, but only 10 percent of the teachers in Catholic schools are unionized.”

“People who teach in Catholic institutions often do it as a vocation, with significantly less money (than they might make elsewhere.) It’s a balancing act to keep Catholic schools affordable and pay teachers properly. … You can’t take blood out of a stone,” said Russo.

Russo criticized dioceses that have refused to bargain with their teachers.

“We owe teachers some job security, even if the money is not there. They need some reasonable expectation of continued employment,” he said.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.