Claire Ballor, News Editor
In a World Youth Day address given in Brazil, a country ridden with poverty and crime, Pope Francis called upon those gathered to address the issues of inequality and poverty and to answer the call to serve.
“No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world,” he said.
Pope Francis’ call to embrace social justice rang out not only to the faithful gathered in Brazil, but also to Catholics throughout the world, and many have since answered with service to the poor in their communities.
In keeping with the papal declaration, the University of Dallas is taking the new school year as an opportunity to kick-start its own answer to the call for greater social justice. Dr. John Plotts, vice president of enrollment and student affairs, is hoping to incorporate social justice much more assertively into campus life at UD and to aid in the restoration of the commonly misconstrued term.
Despite the fact that the term “social justice” was coined by a Thomistic Catholic scholar in the 1800s, the term has since taken on a more controversial connotation in the wake of philosopher John Rawls’ 21st-century secular ideology on “justice as fairness.” This recent controversy has sparked a worldwide Catholic movement to understand the term with regard to its original, intended meaning.
While an accurate understanding of social justice is vital to every aspect of human life, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” is helpful in enumerating the responsibilities of the Catholic university in particular in regard to social justice.
In the document, Pope John Paul II reminds the faithful of the need for a Catholic university “within its proper competence” to “become an ever more effective instrument of cultural progress for individuals as well as for society” and to promote the serious study of “contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world’s resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level.”
“We hope to raise awareness of what we are doing as a university in terms of social justice,” said Plotts. “Our goals for this coming year are to classify what we are currently doing, find the holes and gaps in our service … fill them in with activities that will further complete our mission and work on our PR campaign to spread this mission campus-wide.”
Plotts highlighted the fact that UD’s social-justice mission is “a movement or an emphasis, not just a passing theme,” and that it should not be seen as an effort to promote something that has been absent from campus, but rather as an effort to “bring about a campus-wide answer to the call for social justice in more ways than before, and to unite it all under a balanced mission.”
The campus-wide mission will begin with the promotion of more charity and service involvement, as well as a more active endorsement of those charitable groups that are already on campus. In addition, Plotts hopes to raise campus-wide awareness of the call to care for the environment.
“You don’t need to have a certain political agenda to take proper action to help our environment; everyone is called to care for God’s creation,” said Plotts.
Denise Phillips, the executive director of campus ministry, hopes this movement toward social justice will encourage more involvement from the university as a whole.
“I would like to see alumni involved, I’d like to see us bring back our Saturday of Service event that we used to put on once a month and I’d like to see Groundhog take on an aspect of charity and service,” said Phillips.
Many opportunities to get involved in service are already available on campus; these include Hearts and Hammers, Best Buddies and Crusaders for Life.
The papal declaration was not only for the people of Brazil; it was not only a response to the needs of the hurting people of South America, and it was not only a fleeting, fiery speech given to ignite the youth of the world. It was a reminder to Catholics around the world. “The social justice movement is about us going out and living the gospel as we are called to do as Catholics,” said Phillips. “This is something that should be a way of life, and we are hoping to encourage that this year.”
The administrative plan for the campus-wide social justice movement is more than just a yearlong project.
“What we are going for is really more of a culture change,” said Plotts. “We are looking forward to kickstarting this movement on campus and finding more ways to serve those in our community.”