World Social Justice Day invites us to look at our own society and how we treat people. It also allows us to honour people who keep hanging in as they try to build a more just society. A commitment to justice in any area of life will always lead us through harsh country along a path with many dead ends and steep rises. The opportunity to honour people who had a strong sense of justice in their childhood, were attracted to a cause in their student days and have remained happily committed to a fair society into their old age encourages those at earlier stages of their journey.
Many committed people found their calling in the 1960s, a period when many young people reacted against the perceived narrowness of attitudes and horizons commended by their parents’ generation. They were led to explore new intellectual worlds, to travel abroad and to support the cause of oppressed people both in Australia and overseas.
Many committed themselves to share the lives and hardships of people who were different from themselves.
Young people then were characteristically hopeful that they could change the world if they struggled together for justice. But although much was achieved, their larger hopes were disappointed. Living with different people did not create a different self. Groups whose interests were threatened by change resisted effectively. The energy of people for protest dissipated as they began to work and support families.
More recent years have seen a similar, if more muted, movement among young people for social justice. Many students, notably in the Catholic school system, have given their time to accompany and help people who are disadvantaged. Visiting hospitals, working on soup vans, spending holidays building houses for poor people in the Third World and taking up the cause of people seeking protection in Australia, are just some of the expressions of their commitment.
They seem driven less by the desire to enter new and different worlds typical of the sixties than by the desire to make a difference. But they, too, often come to wonder if they can make a difference and settle for an uneasy acceptance of injustice in the world.
The question of vital interest for Australian society and for community organisations like Jesuit Social Services is how to nurture a passion for social justice and how to encourage it through life.
That is the lifeblood of organisatons that rely on staff and volunteers with brave and compassionate hearts.
Under passion and commitment must lie a coherent conviction that all people are precious and that the rights of each must be respected. We must see human beings as dependent on one another, that no one is expendable, and that we are responsible to each other and especially to the most disadvantaged.
These are the simple principles fleshed out in Catholic Social teaching, the guiding star of Catholic community organisations like Jesuit Social Services. They are important, not because they are Catholic, but because they spell out the claims which we all make on one another as human beings for justice and compassion.