By MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Assistant Editor
The national Social Action Summer Institute, held at Bellarmine University July 29 to Aug. 1, brought more than 250 social ministers to Louisville to hear from national speakers and one another about work with impoverished people.
Mark Bouchard of Catholic Charities of Louisville, which was one of the local sponsors of the institute, said the gathering brought together people who work to end poverty at a critical time.
Poverty in the U.S. stood at about 15 percent in the 2010 census. Acording to the Associated Press — which recently surveyed a cross section of economists, think tanks and academics — a .1 percent rise in the poverty rate would place it at its highest level since 1965.
“It’s always good to see the folks who are working with you around the country doing this kind of work,” Bouchard noted.
Adam Brown, coordinator of the Roundtable Association of Catholic Diocesan Social Action Directors which organized the gathering, said he hopes the institute brings new energy to social ministry.
“I hope it invigorates people and inspires people to go back into their dioceses and continue the struggle,” he said.
He noted that social ministry often is lonely work. A gathering such as the one last week helps people “to know you’re not along in your ministry and there are great organizations in your church you can go to for support,” he said.
Those organizations include the co-sponsors of the institute — the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Justice, Peace and Human Development; Catholic Relief Services; Catholic Charities and JustFaith Ministries.
“JustFaith has been one of the great influences going out and teaching throughout the United States,” Brown noted. “They really have a commitment to do what works.”
JustFaith is based in Louisville and was started at Epiphany Church around 1988 by Jack Jezreel, who still serves as the executive director. It has grown into a national organization.
JustFaith’s programs are two-fold. They aim to educate people of faith about Catholic social teaching and the Gospel message. And the programs aim to help people turn those principles into action to address poverty.
Mary Wright of JustFaith said the organization has had programs in 1,500 parishes in 126 dioceses.
“We have about 30,000 people across the United States who have been in one or many of our programs,” she said.
Wright said graduates of JustFaith programs are encouraged to join in the work of JustFaith’s partners. Among them are those listed above that sponsored the institute, plus a few others.
“All of our programs end in a call to action,” she said. “We are all called to engage in some way to make this a better world to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.”