It was like the first day of school! As a diocesan office, we have been planning and organizing and waiting for this day to come – the day we would launch a new and exciting initiative for the laity and set off on a new journey of formation.
As with any new project, this diocesan pilot program has been a labour of love, born from a passion to pursue justice and live the Gospel in solidarity with the poor. It has been gestating in the hearts and minds of Catholic Pastoral Center staff, committee members, program volunteers, agency partners and of course, lay applicants for some time. So it was with great excitement that we kicked off our inaugural year of the Justice & Outreach Year (J.O.Y.) of Formation program with an orientation retreat on Saturday, August 27th. One by one we all arrived at Queen’s House of Retreat & Renewal, not knowing exactly what to expect but carrying with us an openness to learn and a deep desire to immerse ourselves in the work of social justice.
The J.O.Y. program runs from September to June, during which we will come together once a month to focus on issues of social justice, visit local service-based agencies, and work alongside people who experience life on the margins. Throughout the year we will also prayerfully consider our own baptismal call in the midst of the realities we encounter.
In order to ground ourselves with a common foundation, the orientation retreat offered us the opportunity to receive an overview of issues and resources that will be pertinent to our experience throughout the year. One such topic was - what is often referred to as the Church’s best kept secret - Catholic Social Teaching with Gertrude Rompre, the Director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College. Each of the CST themes will be woven into each weekend of the program and experienced in concrete ways through the agencies we visit, the people we meet and the stories we hear. Catholic Social Teaching, along with Pope Francis’ ecclesial vision and the compassionate life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, are the foundations upon which the J.O.Y. program stands and hopes to embody.
The orientation also invited us to begin thinking about the assumptions we hold and the privileged perspectives we bring with us as we begin this year of formation. Christine Zyla, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Migration, invited us into a simple exercise that focused our attention on the often unconscious yet very real privileges we may blindly operate out of. We leaned into an awareness that the experience of some of us is not the experience of all of us. Inequalities and injustices based on race, economic status, gender, age, ability, etc… are predicated on unconscious assumptions and beliefs that have been deeply and systemically entrenched. The formational aim of the J.O.Y. program seeks to awaken us to some of the assumptions we hold so that we can enter as fully as possible into equitable relationship with those we meet along the journey.
The J.O.Y program and those involved are embarking on a new adventure – learning what it means to walk in solidarity with another and work together towards a safer, more just society where the dignity and rights of all of God’s beloved are recognized and honoured. By connecting with nearly thirty local service agencies throughout the next ten months, meeting with those who work in these social justice fields and being with the people they serve, we seek to broaden our understanding and become equipped with the skills to engage in service outreach.
Pope Francis instructs that “among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor”. As such, we take up the invitation through our involvement in the Justice & Outreach Year of Formation program to respond to our baptismal call and meet our human responsibility to reach out to others. We seek to grow and be transformed in humble service, discipleship, compassion and of course, joy! Ready or not… here we go! As the poet John O’Donohue so eloquently captures,
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where [our] thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until [we] were ready to emerge.
You are invited to follow our year-long journey through the J.O.Y program on our Facebook page, on Twitter and by reading our experiences on our blog at www.joyformationprogram.com. For more information please contact the Office of J.O.Y. Formation at email@example.com