Justice Month aims to inspire youth

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 8, 2012

Justice Day wasn’t enough. Neither was Justice Week. So in this Year of Teens and Young Adults, the archdioceses’s Office of Peace and Justice is sponsoring “Justice Month” in April, featuring activities planned in each of the six vicariates.

Tom Howard, who is in charge of justice education, has been helping peace and justice teams from each vicariate plan their events, which will be aimed at responding to the needs and concerns of young people.

Surveys helped

Surveys of teens in each vicariate helped the teams — who include parish peace and justice representatives — decide what social sins to address in each area, Howard said.

In Vicariate I, which includes Lake County and the northwest suburbs of Cook County, surveys showed that teens are hesitant to express their beliefs in civic life. Organizers there are planning a daylong event April 28 focused on rights and responsibilities, which will include discussions, skits and information about how people of faith can participate in the public square.

Young people in Vicariate II, which spreads north from downtown Chicago through the North Side to the north suburbs of Cook County, were excited by the idea of caring for God’s creation. Social justice teams from the vicariate have already participated in four sessions on different aspects of ecology, ranging from water quality to pollution. A group of young people representing different parishes is planing an Earth Day activity on April 22 for their peers from the whole vicariate.

In Vicariate IV, which includes the far Northwest Side and the west Cook County suburbs, young DREAMers — undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and now are unable to attend college because they are not eligible for financial aid — are organizing pilgrimages on April 29, the feast of St. Catherine of Siena, from three mostly English-speaking parishes in Oak Park and River Forest to Dominican University, where there will be a presentation on “Peace and Justice through the Eyes of St. Catherine of Siena.” The focus is on sharing Catholic social teaching on immigration, Howard said.

Surveys in Vicariate V, which includes the Southwest Side and southwest suburbs, showed that young people have become disconnected from the idea of work as vocation, as something that develops and affirms the dignity of the worker. “The kids there are very, very skeptical of their prospects of even getting jobs,” Howard said. A full-day event is planned for April 21 to explore Catholic teaching on the role of the economy and the dignity of workers.

Vicariate VI leaders plan to organize an event for young people around the topics of teen violence and a loss of hope among young people, with a date to be determined. Vicariate VI includes the South Side and south suburbs.

Plans also are still being made in Vicariate III, which runs from the near Southwest Side to the near Northwest Side.

Howard, who has worked on the project for months, said that involving teens in meaningful social justice work is important for both their development and the church’s. Social justice is one of three components of the formula — along with inclusion in parish affairs and a spiritual conversion experience — that help young people grow into adults who practice their faith.

Offices collaborating

Up until now, however, there had been relatively little collaboration between the Office for Peace and Justice and the Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry, Howard said. The archdiocesan strategic plan, with its first-year emphasis on teens and young adults, helped break down barriers within the archdiocese, leading different offices to collaborate and to offer a more coherent presence to the wider community, he said.

The effort will not end as April turns to May. Each group will come up with a follow-up plan to continue their work, and Howard and the Office for Peace and Justice will began planning the next Justice Month.

“As long there is racism and sexism and classism and poverty and any of the other social sins, there will be a need for Justice Month,” he said.