Conference focuses on ministers of life, charity, justice

By Ricardo Gandara
Correspondent

Joe Paprocki liked to believe that in his 34 years of spreading the Good News through ministries, sixth graders would automatically absorb his wisdom in classroom lectures. Not so.
It wasn’t until Paprocki took the pre-teens to a Ronald McDonald House in Chicago that things clicked. There, they cooked and served a meal to families staying in the facility. “The kids were animated. Afterward, they talked about how meaningful it was,” he said. “It didn’t do a lot for my ego (laughs) regarding teaching in class, but I saw them put into action what they’d learned.”
Paprocki, a national consultant for Faith Formation for Loyola Press, a nonprofit Jesuit publishing ministry in Chicago, will pitch field trip ideas to catechists and volunteers who serve in a variety of social justice ministries at the Living the Good News Conference on Nov. 5 at St. Dominic Savio High School. Speakers will discuss ways to effectively minister to the many people who come to parishes for basic needs such as food and counseling in several areas including pro-life, domestic abuse and adoption. 
DeKarlos Blackmon, the diocesan director of Life, Charity, and Justice, said parish social ministry volunteers are the difference makers who lovingly work with people in a myriad of ministries such as the Gabriel Project, a program to help pregnant women and families in need. They also work with the most vulnerable, such as immigrants, who often face work issues such as fair pay.
Ralph McCloud, director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development with the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops, and Luisa de Poo, the associate director for Pro- Life activities with Diocese of Austin, are the other featured speakers. De Poo will make her presentation in Spanish. The gathering, which also offers opportunities to network, will focus on how to best serve people. 
“The conference aims to empower people of faith to develop a passion for life, charity and justice, and to express this passion in concrete acts of social ministry within the many parochial ministries and apostolates throughout the Diocese of Austin,” Blackmon said. 
Simply put, Paprocki said, “It’s about teaching the teachers.”
De Poo, the associate director of Pro-Life Activities for the Austin Diocese, said pro-life issues encompass more than the sanctity of life. 
“You can’t be pro-life without taking care of your family and loving and respecting each other. We talk about end-of-life issues, immigration, domestic violence, assisted suicide and mothers who want to put their children up for adoption,” she said.
Seizing on the Hispanic culture’s love of the church and caring for family, she will emphasize Pope Francis’ message of mercy. She said in parishes the message is carried out in the areas of education, advocacy, worship and even scouting, which is regarded as a high profile pro-family activity.
A big component of de Poo’s work is the peaceful demonstrations organized outside abortion clinics. 
“We are there to pray, not protest,” she said. “We teach people the dos and don’ts, that we are there to pray for women in crisis and the clinic workers inside. It’s about getting people into action and to be attentive to the Gospel and creation,” she said. 
In working with neighborhood organizations, McCloud sees first-hand the families torn apart with housing, public safety and education issues. 
“Our work is a time honored tradition to be there for families and in doing so we remind them there is still Good News in the Gospel even in places where the family of God is torn apart and struggling in their everyday lives,” he said.
His program works in cities where races are polarized. 
“We have more than 200 organizations around the U.S. bringing people together to have conversations and see Jesus in one another and (to see) that we have so much in common,” he said.
McCloud is sincerely grateful for those who serve in social justice ministries. 
“My hope is to thank and affirm them. They can feel isolated sometimes. The conference will get them together to remind them that their work is valued and consistent with the work of Jesus,” he said.
Paprocki said catechists will also get a lot out of attending the Nov. 5 conference. 
“It’s about passing the Good News of Jesus to others in need of the Good News, people who lack hope and joy and fall into despair,” he said.
To register for the conference, contact (512) 949-2486 or visit www.austindiocese.org.