Catholic Social Teaching
Diocesan Guidelines of Parish Social Concern Groups

Introduction

On Pentecost Sunday, 1995, Cardinal John B. Wu published the “Interim Report on the implementation of the Pastoral Exhortation “March into the Bright Decade” and the “Proposals for the following five years. With regard to the formulation of a concrete plan on social affairs, there is an emphasis on the importance of a balanced development between the “servant role” and the “prophetic role”(Section 6.1). The plan is also in favour of the idea of developing social concern groups in parishes, and “encourage[s] the diocesan social concern organizations to give priority in the future to supporting the development of social concern groups”, and “to assist the Diocese in formulating Diocesan Guidelines for the Establishment of a Social Concern Group in Parishes (Section 6.4).

During the past few years, parishes have encountered many difficulties in establishing social concern groups, showing a need for the diocese to issue diocesan guidelines. “Pastoral care-evangelization” and “social concern” are the two arms of the Church, and neither of them can be dispensed with. The diocese now announces the following concise “Guidelines” in order to encourage and assist all parishes in establishing Parish Social Concern Groups as soon as possible.

 

The Parish Social Concern Group’s

  1. Aims

In accordance with the spirit of the Gospel and the social teachings of the Church, the Parish Social Concern Group aims to directly serve those in need and to bear witness to the Gospel in the neighbourhood district community and in society through action, and to promote social justice and defend human dignity, so that the Church may become the conscience of society.

2. Functions

 

 

2.1 To be concerned with social problems in the neighbourhood district community and in society as a whole; to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of marginalized groups; to examine and analyse unjust policies and social issues, to find out their roots and causes, and to respond to them actively.

2.2 To provide parishioners with formation on social awareness, so that they may feel themselves part of the neighbourhood district community and of society; to promote the participation of the laity in social concern action for the neighbourhood district community and for society.

 

 

3. Areas of Concern

Apart from serving the neighbourhood district community, the Parish Social Concern Group can also involve itself in responding to the needs of Hong Kong society, China and the world at large.

 

 

 

4. The Parish Social Concern Group should adopt both of the following approaches:

4.1 Conscientisation: To bring concern for the neighbourhood district community and for society into different aspects of parish life by conducting seminars on social concern, organizing study groups, sharing with catechumens and members of small faith communities the experience of social concern, writing to parish newsletters, conducting workshops on the social teachings of the Church, and recruiting volunteers in the parish to serve the neighbourhood district community, etc.

4.2 Concrete Response: To respond to individual social issues or policies relating to the neighbourhood district community or society, including-

4.2.1 Direct service to the neighbourhood district community to which the parish belongs; and

4.2.2 organizing social concern action in the neighbourhood district community or participating in social action.

 

 

5. Structure

The members of the Parish Social Concern Group are chosen from among those parishioners who are willing to take on the roles of “servant” and “prophet”. Members of other parish associations can also join the group. The Group leader or the representative assigned by him/her should have a seat on the parish (pastoral) council, or at least should be able to attend the council meetings, so as to bring social concern issues to the parish level.

6. Operation

The activities of the Parish Social Concern Group should be conducted in the name of the Group or the parish, depending on whether a consensus has been reached by the Group members or by the parish (pastoral) council. These activities should also be conducted with the prior consent of the Parish Priest or the Moderator of the Parish Pastoral Team.

It is fitting that there be co-ordination between the Parish Social Concern Groups at the deanery level, with a view to exchanging ideas, giving mutual support, or organizing activities together.

 

 

7. Diocesan Organizations Offering Help to Parish Social Concern Groups

 

 

Throughout the different stages of its establishment and development, the Parish Social Concern Group should provide its members with formation activities on various subjects, such as the social teachings of the Church, the spirituality of social concern, social analyses, social ethics and organizational skills, in order to deepen the faith and social awareness of members. The Social Concern Group can hold various formation activities, whether for its members or for parishioners, with the help of and in co-operation with the following diocesan organizations:

 

 

Diocesan Office for Laity Formation

Diocesan Catechetical Centre

HK Central Council of Catholic Laity

Diocesan Youth Commission

Steering Group on Co-operation between Caritas and Parishes

Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese

HK Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs

 

 

The above diocesan organizations may send their representatives to form a “Joint Social Concern Formation Team” at the diocesan level to promote formation on social concern.

 

 

Appendix I

The Social Teachings of the Church

     

  1. Solidarity of the Church with the whole human family: “The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find an echo in their hearts…That is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n.1).

     

     

  2. Christians should not separate their faith from their daily life. They should be concerned with society and social issues and help foster the common good. “It is a mistake to think that, because we have here no lasting city, but seek the city which is to come, we are entitled to shirk our earthly responsibilities; this is to forget that by our faith we are bound all the more to fulfil these responsibilities according to the vocation of each one” (Ibid. 43). “The pace of change is so far-reaching and rapid nowadays that no one can allow himself to close his eyes to the course of events or indifferently ignore them and wallow in the luxury of a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others” (Ibid. ,n.30).

     

     

  3. Regarding the Church’s mission of social concern, Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis for the Twentieth Anniversary of Populorum Progressio, published on December 30, 1987, provides the following principles:

     

       

    1. Evangelization and the pastoral ministry of the Church include the promotion of the integral development of humankind (nn.31, 41; cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World (8/12/1975), n.31. Cf. also Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly (30/11/1971), “Justice in the World”, n.3; the Introduction points out that “Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world are constitutive dimensions of the Church’s mission for redemption of the human race and its liberation from oppression.”).

       

       

    2. The “integral human development” should take into account God’s salvific plan, our human nature and “vocation”, a balance between the needs of our body and our soul, human relationships, and the relationships between the human race and the created order (nn.27-34). “True development is based on love of God and neighbor, and helps promote the individual’s relationships with society” (n.33; cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio on the Development of Peoples (26/3/1967), n.14).

       

       

    3. We can have different perspectives: "That the whole world is one family with a common origin and destiny; that as Christians we ought to love our neighbours and that everybody is a child of God; that with other Christians we are all followers of Christ (though of different confessions); that with other believers we all believe in God (though we adhere to different religions); that social affairs are often complicated and people from different parts of the world are all interdependent." And yet, from whichever of the foregoing perspectives, we have the obligation to devote ourselves, in solidarity (We are all really responsible for all.), collaboration and communion with one another, to man's “integral development” and “true liberation”. (nn.26, 38-40, 46-47; cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 26; Luke.10: 25-37; 16: 19-31).

       

       

    4. The social concern action of Christians consists in examining and interpreting individual concrete situations of man and society in the light of faith and the spirit of the Gospel. Then, with the help of the principles for reflection, the criteria for judgement and the directives for action provided by the social teachings of the Church, Christians should discern, from the moral perspective, to what extent the foregoing situations are in line or in contradiction with the Gospel and the human vocation, and take appropriate action to bring about improvements. (nn.7, 41; cf. Pope XXIII, Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra on Christianity and Social Progress (15/5/1961), n.235; Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n.4; Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Letter Octogesima Adveniens, Commemorating Rerum Novarum (15/5/1971), n.4; Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, n.13; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (22/3/1986), n.72).

       

       

    5. From time to time, social concern involves problems and solutions that entail essentially moral decisions. This in turn demands a radical spiritual renewal in regard to oneself, to others, to society and to nature, so as to overcome “sin” and remove “the structures or situations of sin”, with a view to promoting the common good and the “integral development” of individuals and of humankind (nn.35-38; cf. nn.8-9).

       

       

    6. The first priority of social concern is “caring for the socially marginalized and the poor.” (nn.42-43).

       

       

    7. Social concern action should not resort to hatred and violence [nn.24,27; cf. Synod of Bishops, Second General Assembly (30/11/1971), “Justice in the World,” n.3; Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation on Evangelization in the Modern World, n.37].

       

       

    8. Any effort that contributes to the promotion of human dignity and the “integral development” of humankind, however imperfect or temporary, is never wasted and will help to bring about the fullness of the kingdom of heaven in the life to come (n.48; cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 39).

       

 

Appendix II

The Process of the Establishment and Development of the Parish Social Concern Group

     

  1. Promotion Stage

     

       

    1. Discuss the feasibility of setting up a social concern group at the meetings of the parish (pastoral) council, federations of clerical or lay associations (e.g., the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity) and the deaneries.

       

       

    2. Begin to build up a social concern atmosphere in the parish as a whole.

       

 

 

Some possible activities:

 

 

       

    • organize social concern activities (such as seminars, exhibitions, workshops, courses, community services and preaching).

       

       

    • Conduct activities on the study of the social teachings of the Church at the deanery level and get the parishes in the deanery to give support and participate.

       

       

    • Let small faith communities and parish groups share materials from social concern gatherings.

       

       

    • Arrange for experience sharing on bearing witness to the Gospel at the social level.

       

     

  1. Recruitment and Establishment Stage

     

 

 

Some ways for recruiting members:

 

 

     

  • Single out Catholics who are potential members in all kinds of social concern activities.

     

     

  • Promote social concern among the newly-baptized and follow up.

     

     

  • Recruit potential members in small faith communities.

     

     

  1. The Growth and Development Stage

     

       

    1. Official establishment of the parish social concern group.

       

       

    2. With the help of diocesan social concern organizations, continue to consolidate the sense of community among group members, provide them and parishioners with various formation programmes, and promote social awareness at different levels of the parish.

       

* See Appendix III for the goals and criteria for assessment for each of the above stages.

 

Appendix III

Goals and Criteria for Assessment of Individual Stages:

Goals of Promotion Stage

Criteria for Assessment

     

  1. Level of Deaneries and Federations of Clerical or Lay Associations

     

Help the deaneries and federations to know more about social concern and to pay more attention to it.

 

     

  • Has the establishment of parish social concern groups been discussed at the meetings of the deaneries and federations of clerical or lay associations (e.g., the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity)?

     

     

  • Is the establishment of social concern groups supported by priests?

     

  1. Level of Parish Leadership

     

       

    1. Collect and assimilate all the useful opinions concerning the establishment of a parish social concern group.

       

       

    2. Help the parish leadership to know more about social concern.

       

       

    3. Motivate the parish leadership as to the need to establish a social concern group.

 

     

  • Do members of the parish leadership [parish clergy, parish pastoral team, pastoral sisters, pastoral assistants, members of the parish (pastoral) council, etc.] accept to assume more responsibilities with regard to the establishment of the social concern group?

     

     

  • Is there anyone responsible for the overall planning temporarily?

     

  1. Level of Parochial Community

     

Create an atmosphere conducive to social concern and stimulate parishioners to join social concern activities.

 

     

  • How many social concern activities has the parish organized?

     

     

  • How many parishioners participated in these activities?

     

     

  • Were they actively involved in these activities?

     

  1. Level of Small Faith Communities and Lay Associations

     

       

    1. Add some more social concern topics during the gatherings of small faith communities and respond through action.

       

       

    2. Help lay associations to realize that they also have the responsibility to assist in promoting social concern.

 

     

  • Do small faith communities discuss social issues and respond through action?

     

     

  • Do the apostates and activities of lay associations involve the area of social concern?

     

  1. Level of Catholic Families and Individual Parishioners

     

       

    1. Help Catholic families and individual parishioners to have a rudimentary understanding of the relationship between faith and social concern.

       

       

    2. Help Catholic families and individual parishioners to show more interest in issues relating to their neighbourhood district community and to society.

 

 

     

  • It is rather difficult for us to observe individual Catholic families and individual parishioners, but they can assess whether or not they themselves have deepened their social awareness.

 

 

Goals of

Recruitment and Establishment Stage

Criteria for Assessment

     

  1. Regarding Parish Leadership

     

Encourage the parish leadership to continue to promote social concern activities by providing resources and giving spiritual support.

 

     

  • Do members of the parish leadership follow up the establishment of the social concern group?

     

     

  • Does the person(s) in charge report regularly and does the parish (pastoral) council discuss and give comments on the reports?

     

  1. Regarding the Organization of the Group

     

       

    1. Recruit interested Catholics through social concern activities; try to organize a core group and expand it by various means.

       

       

    2. Enhance the solidarity of group members through sharing of faith experience within the core group.

       

       

    3. Identify the objectives and plans of the core group.

       

       

    4. Improve the group’s skills of organizing activities and preparing for faith reflections.

 

     

  • Have visits and all kinds of promotional activities been able to single out interested parishioners? How many are there?

     

     

  • How close are the members? Does their readiness to participate in meetings and discussions grow with sharing of faith experience and organizing of activities?

     

     

  • Do members have some preliminary ideas and consensus about the objectives of the social concern group?

     

     

  • Is there more and more improvement on the skills of organizing activities?

     

  1. Regarding Faith and Knowledge of Group Members

     

       

    1. Let members know more about the neighbourhood district community and social issues.

       

       

    2. Reflect on the social dimension of faith.

 

 

     

  • Does the group in its discussions get a deeper knowledge of society and the neighbourhood district community?

     

     

  • Are the faith reflections keen enough?

     

     

  • Has the social dimension of faith reflections been expanded?

 

 

 

Goals of Growth and Development Stage

Criteria for Assessment

     

  1. Regarding Parish Leadership

     

       

    1. The social concern group leader or the representative assigned by him/her should have a seat on the parish (pastoral) council, or at least should be able to attend the council meetings, so as to facilitate and enhance the mutual communications and understanding between the council and the group.

       

       

    2. The annual plan of the parish (pastoral) council should include social concern activities, such as services to the neighbourhood district community, social concern action, formation on social awareness.

 

     

  • Does the parish (pastoral) council spare time in each meeting to discuss the problems encountered by the social concern group in the early stage of its establishment?

     

     

  • Does the parish (pastoral) council give actual support to the activities of the social concern group?

     

     

  • How many social concern activities are there in the annual plan of the parish?

     

  1. Regarding the Organization of the Group

     

       

    1. Strengthen the group’s solidarity and sense of belonging and mission.

       

       

    2. Deepen the group's experience of social services and subsequent reflections.

       

       

    3. Let group members enrich their personal experience by keeping contact as much as possible with marginalized groups in society and understanding their needs and expectations.

 

 

     

  • How much do the members know one another? Does their readiness to participate in meetings and discussions become more stable?

     

     

  • Do members feel more confident in group discussions?

     

     

  • How many social services and exposures have taken place? Do follow-up discussions and reflections help members to understand better the social causes of the situations of marginalized groups?

     

  1. Regarding Faith and Knowledge of Group Members

     

       

    1. A more thorough understanding of the resources (or their insufficiency) of the neighbourhood district community.

       

       

    2. Learn to grasp in what aspects the present situation of Hong Kong society contradicts the spirit of the Gospel.

       

       

    3. Deepen understanding of the social teachings of the Church.

       

       

    4. Reflect on the social mission of Christians and grasp its significance.

 

 

     

  • Has a better understanding of the resources of the neighbourhood district community or their insufficiency been helpful in organizing activities that best serve the needs of the community?

     

     

  • Can members distinguish between issues that are in line or in contradiction with the spirit of the Gospel?

     

     

  • Have there been seminars or workshops for group members on the social teachings of the Church?

     

     

  • Has the sense of social mission of group members as Christians been strengthened?