Written by Fr. Ted Cassidy SM
Here at Cape May Point at the very tip of New Jersey, while I was looking out the chapel window, glancing at the sky and ocean, and preparing for the Sunday Eucharist for our Families with Young Children Retreat, a young couple with four children all under the age of seven were doing their family activity of deciding what kind of action they would take as a result of the retreat.
They had to color a ship and then write down their decision. One of the children kept pestering to color and the parents kept saying that enough coloring was done and they had to decide what they wanted to do as a result of the retreat.
That same night I watched an edition of Democracy Now with historical experts going at each other over various interpretations of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I could not help but find some humor and also some similarity in these two incidents. Both had conflict and passion. The first was resolved but the second is much deeper, of course.
For the last three years, with the support of the Marianist Sharing Fund and our Retreat Center, a group of us here in south New Jersey have been working with churches and a synagogue to create a faith -based community organization. The purpose of the organization is to unite leaders of faith communities who work together to root out causes of injustice. Actually it is to help people who believe in God and community to understand issues and take appropriate action. It demands the same skill that a family needs to come together and warring sides need to find common ground. Just recently the twelve founding churches and other faith groups involved named our organization South Jersey Hope.
Fr. Chaminade and the other Marianist founders have given us the legacy of the universal mission of Mary to be our goal. Such a goal means that we pursue excellently what we may be about in our retreat centers or other apostolate. Yetuniversal means that we are in union with the Catholic social justice principle of solidarity.
How easy it is to want to color one’s own piece or stay with an emotional passion for an interpretation of history. What we have done in forming South Jersey Hope with the help of a community organizer has ever so slowly enabled church leaders to get to know each other, speak about common problems and initiate an organization. A volunteer at the retreat house and I have interviewed personally about fifty clergy and other faith leaders. A sponsoring committee has been formed. Twelve churches and other faith groups have shown strong commitment to the organization.
Our present effort is to hold a prayer service in November for members of the congregations that invites them into the process and in turn their fellow parishioners.
Community organizing is the very successful effort that has happened in many parts of the country and the world. It expands a local group to realize that is both part of the problems and the solutions of an area. It provides an organized force that shows the wider community what can be done together to build solidarity. It is based on the Benedictine monastic principle of community living for the sake of society. It is an expansion of the Marianist principle of each person sharing his or his gifts in a discipleship of equals for the sake of the common good. It results in a church and a retreat house or any faith-based effort learning practically the meaning of solidarity.
The father and mother I spoke about above persevered in their effort and brought their family one step further from a spirit of individuality to resolving to invite neighbors over to their house for meals. I know there are many who want to live in solidarity with the people in the Middle East. I do believe that despite all the passion and denials, the effort to bring people together can work. I believe the power of grace and the community that Chaminade talked about is possible. This is our South Jersey Hope.