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Life, Dignity and Justice Conference tackles many social issues

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By Marge Bitetti

SAN BERNARDINO—“Put your finger on a map any where you point your finger, there is someone with the same blood type as you. The world is getting smaller and that affirms that we are all neighbors.” 

 Using this reflection on global solidarity, Rabbi Emeritus Hillel Cohn of Congregation Emanu El opened his keynote address to the several hundred people gathered at the Diocese Pastoral Center on May 9 for the Second Diocesan Life, Dignity and Justice Conference. 

 Among the topics explored were racism, poverty, the environment, and care for the sick and dying. A better understanding of these topics and connecting them to the teachings of the Church can enrich our faith and assist us in making the world a better place, event organizers stressed.

 Sister Mary Chilee Okoko, DMMM, Director of the Diocese Department of Life, Dignity and Justice served as the chair for the conference.

 Sister Mary Sean, OP, Director of Partnership for Re-entry Program (PREP) offered a workshop on parolees re-entering into the community; Rev. Jim Clarke Director of Evangelization for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, spoke about the Spirituality of Doing the Works of Charity and Peace; Father Clarence Williams, CPPS, PhD. spoke about the Evils of Racism and Discrimination; Ken Sawa, CEO/Executive Director of Catholic Charities San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, spoke about the Sociological and Psychological Consequences of Extreme Poverty and Homelessness; Father Donald Craig from the Archdiocese of Chicago spoke about the Call to Care for the Sick and Dying and Healthy Spiritual Aging; Dan Misleh, Executive Director of Catholic Climate Covenant spoke about the “Consequences of Climate Change;” Dr. Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and Cal State, San Bernardino, spoke about The Challenges of Wars, Crime and Hate in the Modern World; Mary Huber, Director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care programs in the Diocese of San Bernardino, spoke about the Culture of Life versus the Culture of Death and How to Find Hope in Brokenness.

 Genna Johnson shared her personal experiences in working with women who are returning from prison. She talked about her work with individuals and assisting them in re-entering society after their release.

 Fr. Williams, who is pastor at St. James the Less Parish in Columbus, Ohio, a noted author and the founder of the Institute for Recovery from Racism, ended the daylong conference speaking about “Peace and Justice as the Key to Building a Better World.” His talk urged the attendees to become witnesses in terms of peace and justice. 

 “A witness for justice calls others to stand with them, to witness, to be aware and do something,” he said.

 When people witness events or circumstances that are unjust it is a call to action, he said. He related that a witness verifies situations and can provide respect for the dignity of others. He further stated that being a witness for social justice is a lifestyle. “The lack of witnessing is the loss of salvation,” he said. 

 Fr. Williams stressed the need for Catholics to build bridges, to go from where they are to where they want to be. This is especially true in working with multicultural communities. He mentioned that it is important to have connections with others and know their history before you seek to build bridges with them. 

 He also spoke about the principle of thinking in paradigms, or models. He shared the example that St. Paul received the paradigm that we are all part of the body of Christ. People need to examine their own paradigms or personal thinking so that they can become a witness to Christ in the world. Prayer and work can make a difference in that effort, he said.

 In his opening comments at the conference Bishop Gerald Barnes stated, “As a Nation, but most especially in our Diocese, we are blessed with people of all races, creeds, ethnicities, varied social and economic backgrounds, different traditions and cultures. Our mission is to impact family neighborhood and society with the gospel so that people’s lives are filled with hope.”