The Church has always tried to model its outreach to people on the words and actions of Jesus as applied to contemporary times and realities. Inspired by Jesus, saintly people have provided models of compassionate outreach in diverse cultures, situations, and times. In a world of globalization, outreach continues to address personal human needs, with a human touch. Outreach also goes beyond the individual person to identify within human cultures and complex systems the sinfulness of oppression, violence, and destruction. Here it tries to bring the searing light of the Gospel to illuminate and expose evil. The Church too has to examine its own behaviors and admit too that it has sinned.
During the Speak Up sessions people said:
- “There should be a specific outreach ministry to the seniors and the elderly.”
- “Work for and with the immigrants and be sure to include them.”
- “Create a center for fostering peace-making and leadership training in peace.”
- “Make sure that each parish reaches out and gives support to the separated, divorced and remarried.”
- “Train parish ministers to visit the sick and pray with them at home, in nursing homes, and hospitals.”
Recognizing that outreach means leaving safety, convenience, and self behind, people indicated that compassionate outreach is a function of discipleship. There is no one way of being compassionate. Sometimes compassion is best expressed in listening so that a person or a group is heard. Compassionate outreach may be an activity done on behalf of others. Sometimes it urges us to be present with suffering people; sometimes it involves lobbying or advocacy.
Four broad categories of people were named by the Church of South Jersey as those who must be approached by the Church with great sensitivity and compassion:
- the alienated Catholics who for a variety of reasons are no longer worshipping with the faith community,
- the marginalized peoples who have been pushed to edges of society by prejudice, ignorance, poor behavior, addictions, mental illness,
- poor people who do not have the means, access, health, or support needed to be anything other than poor,
- those who have immigrated from another country, who neither speak nor understand the English language, who have different cultural ways, and who challenge us to look at ourselves and how we extend hospitality to the stranger.
Addressing those in need of compassion is fundamental in the exercise of our faith. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are based on the actions of Jesus whom we follow. The human needs remain much the same even though the location and situation varies in our times. The gospel calls for compassionate outreach and the Church of South Jersey has envisioned this as one of its six pastoral priorities for these times.