Peace & Justice Blog

Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching

The Church's social teaching is a rich treasure of wisdom about building a just society and living lives of holiness amidst the challenges of modern society. Modern Catholic social teaching has been articulated through a tradition of papal, conciliator, and episcopal documents. The depth and richness of this tradition can be understood best through a direct reading of these documents. In these brief reflections, we highlight several of the key themes that are at the heart of our Catholic social tradition.

Life and Dignity of the Human Person


The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. This belief is the foundation of all the principles of our social teaching. In our society, human life is under direct attack from abortion and euthanasia. The value of human life is being threatened by cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and the use of the death penalty. The intentional targeting of civilians in war or terrorist attacks is always wrong. Catholic teaching also calls on us to work to avoid war. Nations must protect the right to life by finding increasingly effective ways to prevent conflicts and resolve them by peaceful means. We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.

I became aware of St. Joseph Emergency Family Shelter (now named Catholic Charities Emergency Family Shelter) about 16 years ago after becoming involved with JustFaith. At first, I was a volunteer and later was employed there as a house manager. In this temporary home for families in need, I witnessed an oasis fora diverse population of humanity being offered life and dignity. Our mission was to “serve all people in need with compassion and competence.” All were welcome including refugees, immigrants, blended families, and grandparents caring for grandchildren. Families in need of housing were given a spotlessly clean room with enough beds for their family. Staff worked tirelessly to clean rooms making them cozy and welcoming. Volunteers brought delicious homemade meals to comfort the shelter guests. Conflicts were handled peacefully by talking through issues, listening to all sides and finding a solution that was safe for all. I saw in this special place a hope for a world that could be, where we all pitch in to help one another along the way. It is a place where“every person is precious and where people are more important than things.” This is where I learned firsthand about the life and dignity of the human person. Dixie Webb

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society -- in economics and politics, in law and policy -- directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Marriage and the family are the central social institutions that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.

The Catholic Church believes we have the responsibility to participate in society and to promote the common good, especially for the poor and vulnerable. “ USCCB Catholic Social Teaching


When I first heard about Family Promise, (at the time it was called Interfaith Hospitality Network) I thought it would be a good opportunity for our family to help families that were less fortunate than ours and teach our children about helping others. We signed up to help with meals and host evening activities. When our kids became more involved in school activities I began volunteering to be the overnight host, because sleeping is pretty easy and I could fit it in to our busy schedule. As a teacher in the Des Moines Public Schools, I felt I was pretty aware of poverty in our community, but Family Promise opened my eyes to how easy it is to become homeless. Many of our guests have medical complications that prohibit them from working, some were actually hurt on the job, some are recovering from substance abuse problems, and some have just had some really bad luck. Family Promise gives these families an opportunity to keep their family together as they work to get back on their feet. Our OLIH community gets an opportunity to love them and support them on their journey. A few years ago, a call came out that coordinators were needed to help organize the Family Promise weeks at OLIH. My husband Rob and I decided this was something we could do. What a gift this new role has been! Not only are we blessed by the families we meet through hosting, we are also blessed by the volunteers of our parish who help us serve our guests. Natalie Francis

“As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” 1 Peter 4:10

Rights and Responsibilities

The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.

Corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities--to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.

As Catholics, we believe in protecting human dignity and a collective responsibility to the community. I have often struggled with this, wondering how I can best serve my neighbors, and asking what I can possibly accomplish by acting alone? Becoming involved in the OLIH AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy) group has permitted me to fully live out this tenet of my faith. AMOS believes in each person’s inherent dignity, and unites and focuses individual action into a responsible, organized force for the common good. Many of you are likely familiar with the extensive Ankeny community needs and services assessment that the OLIH AMOS group researched and initially presented in 2017. Since joining AMOS, I’ve personally engaged in small group discussions to learn about the concerns and priorities of fellow community members. I’ve also participated in events to foster dialog between citizens and government, such as a public forum in which victims of the June 30th flash flood interacted with city and county government representatives to identify ways to better protect against and respond to extreme weather events in the future. Through AMOS, I unite with others in my community to make sure everyone has a voice, lives with dignity, and can fulfill their potential. Jan Brown

Option for the Poor and Vulnerable


A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.

About 25 years ago I was asked to be part of a group, Residents Encounter Christ, that would hold a retreat at the women’s prison, Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) in Mitchellville. At that time, I had all the excuses as to why I could not possibly give up a weekend (and some afternoons) to do that. I had small children and they were in activities and so the excuses went on. I realize now that it was fear of going into a prison that held me back. Fast forward to 2005. I met some new people who were a part of Residents Encounter Christ at ICIW and again was asked. I had been reading Matthew 25 and realized this was my call to visit the imprisoned. As my first retreat drew near, I knew fear. Fear of the unknown, fear for breaking rules, fear I would say the wrong thing. I kept asking God to be with me. The weekend came. What an eye opener for me. I thought I would bring so much to these women. When in reality, they filled my cup to overflowing. The wisdom and love of Jesus that they had was amazing. Their insights into how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus to love and forgive one another were profound. I continue to go to ICIW to make my life real. Real in the sense that faith in God will get me through tough times. Mary Reichter

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers


The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in Gods creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected--the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.

Why do you see Don Justo coffee from El Salvador being sold in the gathering space after mass? One reason is to uphold the Catholic Social Teaching tenet of "The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers". This project ensures the local farmers, laborers and packagers of the coffee are paid a fair wage for their efforts. The project also supports the local community in Berlin, El Salvador. A team of parishioners in Berlin decide what community needs the profits are used for, including medical and water needs. Because of this project, the families are able to participate in productive work and hopefully do not have to make the difficult decision to possibly try to immigrate. Another benefit is that the coffee is grown using sustainable methods that are good for the environment. OLIH has participated in this project for 15 years. Coordinating this project and drinking Don Justo coffee is a small, simple wayto support the Dignity of Work for our brothers and sisters in El Salvador. Oh, and the coffee is very good too! Please stop by the coffee table after mass on 1st weekend of the even numbered months to try it yourself. Jane Alderman


We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers and sisters keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Pope Paul VI taught that if you want peace, work for justice.1 The Gospel calls us to be peacemakers. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.

Understanding Solidarity and living in Solidarity with my brothers and sisters are quite different concepts for me. It was easy to give money to organizations such as Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities without fully understanding the depth of their mission and how my faith called me to do so much more. The idea of working for justice and peace became a central focal point for me after experiencing JustFaith. Up until that time I had been active in many volunteer activities but stayed within my safe zone. JustFaith challenged me to meet those whose life challenges were so very different than mine and to listen to their stories and discover the common bonds and dreams I shared with them.

I feel blessed to have been born here in this country in a neighborhood that was safe and with good schools into a family with two parents with strong faith and work ethic who believed in education even if meant sacrifice on their part. Father Greg Boyle in his book“Barking to the Choir”calls this winning the lottery of life. I recognize none of this was of my doing. With that acknowledgement comes the awareness that all human beings are my brothers and sisters. I accept through faith that God made us each in his image and for me to dismiss that and look selfishly upon those striving for better lives goes against what my Catholic faith calls me to do.

Several years ago I was given the opportunity to participate in a day long workshop run by Catholic Relief Services looking to train myself and other interested parishioners in working for justice, to go far beyond charity and to begin the difficult work of looking at how as a Catholic my faith calls me to stand in solidarity with those in need throughout the world. This led to my participation in the Global Advocacy Team of the Diocese of Des Moines. Under the guidance of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops myself and several others including Bishop Pates at times have been the voice for the voiceless both here and around the world with our Congressional representatives. As Catholics we bring our faith teachings to them encouraging them to listen why we advocate for as examples: international poverty focused aid programs, against punitive structural changes to SNAP in the 2018 and the successful refugee resettlement program. I know justice can be achieved when my brothers and sisters throughout the world are able to successfully feed, house, educate, have access to healthcare and clean water for their families. This advocacy gives me the opportunity in a small way to promote justice and peace. Kathy Avey

Care for God's Creation

We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of Gods creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.

I grew up on a farm in northern Missouri and learned at a very early age to appreciate the beauty of nature and value all the plants, animals and people on this planet. I learned from my mother who was an original environmentalist and naturalist even though she didn't know it. She instilled a love of nature and that it was valuable and should not be taken advantage of nor damaged needlessly. I learned to use what was needed, but not in excess. Save it for the future and those who might need it was my mother's mantra. Waste was a bad word in my home as I was growing up. Now as a grandmother I try to instill this thought process in my grandchildren. It is important to listen to your heart and care for our earth, God gave it to us to use, not destroy or abuse. Care for creation is important to me and I feel compelled to work for clean air, water, and planet. It is sad that there are over 1 million plant and animal species now that are at risk of extinction and nearly 700 of these species on the list are in the United States. Giraffes are on the list! Climate change is a buzz word now and unfortunately very controversial. I do not think the discussion should be on man made change or nature's cyclic change but think is should be rather a moral and ethical issue that we should take care of the planet not only for us but future generations...back to my mother's 'waste not' mantra. Regardless of one's opinion on climate change and its cause I think it is only wise to try and use our natural resources wisely and carefully. Energy efficiency and care of the environment should be something we all strive for. My faith calls me to work for Environmental Justice. Jeanette Bauer