If there’s one thing Catholics should know after 14 months of the papacy of Pope Francis, it’s that he’s calling us to the peripheries. He’s calling us to where we are the most uncomfortable — to the edges of society, where we must minister in Jesus’ name to the overlooked and the forgotten.
In his much-quoted speech to the College of Cardinals before last March’s conclave, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio first laid out our mission, saying the Church must go “to the peripheries, not only geographically, but also the existential peripheries: the mystery of sin, of pain, of injustice, of ignorance and indifference to religion, of intellectual currents, and of all misery.”
Since then, Pope Francis has given us no better road map than himself as he regularly ministers to migrants, to the ill and to the poor in slums with a heart full of love.
The first Cristo Rey school opened its doors to minister to the poor children on the outskirts of society who would
have been all too easy to overlook.
All too easily, though, we find excuses not to answer this call. Perhaps we are short on time or energy, or we are overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin. Coming up with concrete solutions to assist those in need is not always easy.
But the Cristo Rey network of schools profiled in this week’s issue (Page 6) has been doing just that since, in 1997, Jesuit Father John Foley wondered why no one was educating the poor children in his southwest Chicago neighborhood.
The first Cristo Rey school opened its doors shortly thereafter to minister to the mostly Mexican-American population — the poor children on the outskirts of society who would have been all too easy to overlook. The Jesuit school developed a work-study program that gives students job experience in a professional business environment and also provides income for the school.
Seventeen years after the Chicago school opened, Cristo Rey boasts 26 schools with 8,200 students all over the country — with at least four more opening in the next two years. And the fruits are incredible. According to the network, 90 percent of the 6,800 alumni have enrolled in colleges or universities, and the graduation rate at a Cristo Rey school is double that of schools with similar demographics. These are poor kids who, thanks to Cristo Rey and to their own hard work and determination, find themselves with a chance to break the cycle of poverty in their families and their communities.
When Pope Francis speaks of ministering to those on the peripheries, it’s these kids about whom he is speaking. Instead of being cast aside for being poor or for not speaking the language, these young people — so often out of sight and out of mind — are receiving the opportunity to live fruitful lives and to contribute to society. And not only will they contribute to it; they, with their diversity and their drive, will enrich it.
This week’s Faith story on the hospital in Oaxaca, Mexico, that ministers to the poorest of the poor is yet another example of reaching out to those on the margins (Page 14). There, Capuchin Father Scott Seethaler saw the need for health care while visiting a friend, and that observation served as the seed that grew into a hospital with 52 employees that serves 2,300 people each month. Father Seethaler is the reason that community has access to health care.
Perhaps the moral of these two stories is that it only takes one person who notices one injustice to start a revolution. Pope Francis, by word and deed, strives to remind us daily of our obligation to serve those who would otherwise be forgotten. It’s up to us to take the next step.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor