Learning Justice from St. Roque Gonzalez
I'm excited to announce a regular series here at The Thin Veil called "Learning from the Saints". Our guide will be saint-expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Adventures In Daily Prayer. His new book, Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus is about to be released. You can learn more about him and his work at www.BertGhezzi.com.
In this first article, Bert shares what we can learn from today's patron saint, St. Roque González, who provides a great example of justice in action.
The lives of the saints teach this mark of authentic spirituality: the more we love God, the more we love others.
We experience this principle as true because the more we open our hearts to God, the more he opens his heart to us. He reveals to us his passionate concern for the well-being of his beloved human beings. And he presses us to care for them in his behalf. Scripture shows that he especially calls us to serve people with great needs—orphans, widows, strangers, the sick, and the poor.
Today the term social justice names the divinely inspired impulse to act on behalf of marginalized people. It encompasses both one-on-one acts of service and corporate efforts to change oppressive social, political, or economic institutions.
Before the twentieth century, saints described their social justice activities as works of charity. All saints performed personal service for people in need. And many dedicated themselves to reforming or establishing institutions that we now would call social justice initiatives.
I think that St. Roque González (1576-1628) especially gives us an inspiring and instructive example of both personal service and social justice initiatives. During a dozen years from 1615 to 1627, St. Roque lived with the Guarani Indians of Paraguay.
He loved them. He ate their food, lived in houses like theirs, and worked side by side with them. He personally tended to them when they were sick.
Roque González was an advocate for the Guarani, acting as pastor, physician, architect, builder, teacher, and agriculturalist. He shines as an exemplar of service evangelism: wining people to Christ by loving them and meeting their material needs.
In the seventeenth century, when Spanish conquistadors were brutalizing and enslaving the Guarani, St Roque helped them become self-sufficient and free. He led the Jesuits who founded the “reductions,” independent Indian village communities that excluded the conquistadors.
The reductions made the Indians self-supporting by combining communal agriculture with private property holding. The reductions also had their own political structure that gave the natives a measure of freedom.
St. Roque was the innovative social activist who created the model for these avant-garde communities. Here is his description of Saint Ignacio, the first reduction that he established in 1613:
“This town had to be built from its very foundations. In order to do away with occasions of sin, I decided to build it so that everyone should have his own house, with fixed boundaries and a corresponding yard. This system prevents easy access from one house to another, which used to be the case and which gave occasion for drunken orgies and other evils.
Comfortable and enclosed with an adobe wall, the houses are built with cedar girders. We have worked hard to arrange all this. But with even greater zest and energy—in fact with all our strength—we have worked to build temples to Our Lord, not only those made by hands but spiritual temples as well, namely the souls of these Indians."
“On Sundays and feast days we preach during mass, explaining the catechism beforehand with equal concern for boys and girls. The adults are instructed in separate groups of about 150 men and the same number of women. Shortly after lunch, we teach them reading and writing for about two hours.”
St. Roque and other Jesuits built more than 30 reductions with an average population of 3,000 each. Most of us will not have the opportunity to work for social justice on such a major scale, although some will. But we can imitate St. Roque’s principles and practice. Here are some ways:
- Identify with the poor and marginalized by living more simply and using our resources to help them;
- Become friends with the homeless and look for ways of meeting their needs;
- Gather non-perishable food for local food pantries and volunteer at soup kitchens;
- Contribute time and money to programs that aim to improve the life circumstances of the poor; for example, Catholic Relief Services, Habitat for Humanity, and Bread for the World;
- Urge our legislators to pass laws that protect the poor;
- Support public officials who show themselves committed to working for justice.
Social justice opportunities are everywhere—we just need to choose the right one for us and seize it. We should prepare ourselves through study and prayer. We should familiarize ourselves with Catholic social teachings by reading major papal and Vatican documents. We should also explore the possibility of expanding our concern for the poor and marginalized through programs like JustFaith.
And when we pray at home or at Mass, let’s ask God to reveal how he wants us to imitate St. Roque.
Read more from Bert at his website, www.BertGhezzi.com, or check out his many books on Amazon.