Bishop Tells Students Catholic Social Teaching Helps Change the World

FAIRFIELD — Don’t stop trying to change the world, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano told Sacred Heart University Students tonight in the first Bergoglio Lecture in honor of Pope Francis.

But he quickly added that if they can’t take on the big structural issues, the best way to transform the world is through a commitment to love and justice, “one person at a time.”

In a 40-minute talk followed by a question and answer session, the Bishop urged students not to succumb to indifference or the feeling of powerlessness as he reflected on “Pope Francis and the Social Gospel.”

He said that “reaching out to the marginalized is the work closest to the Holy Father,” and at the core of what it means to be follower of Christ.

“There is an essential unity between faith and good works. The time for talk alone is over. The time for action is now,” the Bishop said, conveying the Pope’s sense of urgency about the need to bring the Gospel to a troubled and divided world.

At times the Bishop’s appearance at the university felt like a “sit-n” with almost 300 students jamming the Schine Auditorium in the university library. They quickly filled the seats, sat in the aisles, and even gathered around the bishop on the small stage as he spoke.

“This is the beginning of a conversation that I am asking you to have in your own heart and with others. We have a need to dialogue,” the Bishop said.

He was introduced by Fr. Anthony Ciorra, the university’s Vice President for Mission, who noted that Francis became Pope and Bishop Caggiano was named Bishop of Bridgeport just months apart in 2013.

“The Holy Father has been a source of renewal in the Church, and the Bishop through the Synod has brought new life and energy to the Diocese,” Fr. Ciorra said.

The Bishop told the students it wasn’t enough to talk about the Holy Father, but to understand “what he is asking us to do” through his concept of Missionary Discipleship.

The Bishop said that in just four years the Pope “has been reformulating every practice of the Church” and has earned the attention of the entire world because of the compassion and mercy he has brought to those who are suffering.

The Holy Father has invited the poor and refugees to eat in his private quarters, has opened public showers for the homeless and has visited the world’s trouble spots where the lives of the poor are threatened, he said.

Mentioning that many young people today define themselves as spiritual but not religious, the Bishop said that they will find God in formal religious worship and in the context of a faith community.

He said that one of his goals for the diocese is to create welcoming and loving parish communities that will attract young people and make them want to join.

In his discussion of Catholic Social Teaching, the Bishop said that it begins with a respect for the dignity of “the seamless garment of life woven in the mother’s womb and that goes to God in the mystery of death.”

Catholic Social Teaching “has always been on the cutting edge of social concerns,” he said, adding that the Pope’s environmental concerns are part of a long-standing Church tradition.

“Catholic social teaching has always held that mankind should not exploit creation. All Francis did was reiterate that principle that goes back to the New Testament, but he gave it new force and moral authority in our own time,” the Bishop said.

He said Pope Francis believes that young people can change the world.

“The Holy Father asks you above all others to take this challenge. You’re generous, you are willing to sacrifice and you are ready to extend a hand to the people that the world often wants us to forget,” he said.

The Bishop urged students to find time to pray every day and to examine their consciences at night.

“Imagine the person who was most poor or vulnerable that you encountered during the day. If you treated them poorly, you have a lot of work to do,” he said.

Pictures by Amy Mortensen