by Vanessa Ruiz-Wiarco
Before I attended the Ignatian Family Teach-In in Washington D.C., I had never given much thought as to how my Catholic faith reinforces the idea of social justice. There has always been the incessant teachings of our parents or school teachers who remind us to “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” but the application of this principle is more complex than the Church, or even the United States government, has taught me it could be. The Teach-In allowed me to analyze Scripture and apply the teachings to the social issues of immigration and mass incarceration and how they should be tackled through a Jesuit Catholic approach.
The weekend was filled with a whirlwind of impactful keynote speakers from racial justice scholar Fr. Bryan Massingale, to defense attorney Brian Stolarz. Breakout sessions also allowed students to focus on specific issues regarding immigration and mass incarceration. Fr. Massingale spoke about the common base of racism in most, if not all, social justice issues. After hearing various statistics on both mass incarceration and immigration, I was humbled in knowing that racism—still alive and well—had its imprint on every social issue.
Another speaker who affected my current thinking was Fr. James Martin, S.J. Fr. Martin is a controversial leader in the Catholic Church due to his comments in regard to the LGBTQ+ communities and their role in the Church. Fr. Martin’s argument as to why the LGBTQ+ community should not be excluded from the Catholic Church was impactful. He described the LGBTQ+ community as part of a level of so-called “sin.” He argued that if we are going to exclude them from the Church, then we should also exclude those who have gotten a divorce or those who have had impure thoughts. His argument was basically that the Catholic Church should be consistent rather than pick and choose who can and cannot be included in the Church.
The last speaker who had probably the largest impact on me was Attorney Brian Stolarz. Stolarz discussed racism and its prominence in the issue of mass incarceration that Fr. Massingale touched on. Stolarz fought for over ten years for the freedom of Alfred Dewayne Brown from prison for a crime he did not commit. The corruption and racism shown by the District Attorney and police department in hiding important evidence that would prove Brown innocent. Stolarz argued that this implies that there are likely thousands of cases like his across the country. He also spoke about the degradative criminal justice system and its treatment of prisoners. Further, he argued that the system’s inhumane treatment of those who are imprisoned sets up a system of violence and hate that should have no place in our society.
It is a comfort to know more about my faith in a light that reinforces my passion for social justice. At points in my life, I thought of the two as only connected in certain instances, but all social justice issues include the need for love and forgiveness, which Jesus preaches. We as a society should always keep these virtues in mind.