NEW YORK – As Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark spoke from in front of his computer to virtual attendees at day two of the Catholic Campaign on Human Development 50th anniversary celebration Saturday, his office windows were closed to limit the outside noise. It was unusual for the 69-year-old prelate, who, in the spirit of St. John XXIII, prefers the windows of the church open.
“If I open them, you’re going to hear all sorts of stuff,” Tobin explained. “From boom boxes, to samba, salsa, maybe even the occasional fight, but the church needs that window open to listen.”
Invoking Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, Tobin was making the point that listening to people from all walks of life is paramount for the church to help address the many “cracks and fissures” in our society” displayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tobin, alongside other panelists, spoke about those societal “cracks and fissures” that were brought to light over the past year, and what is most important to address going forward. In addition to listening, a renewal of human interaction and the future of employment were at the top of the list.
In both cases, he considers technology a present and future challenge.
Tobin acknowledged that technology has its perks in allowing people to connect when it otherwise wouldn’t be possible (for example, during a global pandemic), but said it’s still no replacement for in-person contact between people that he deems a “necessity.”
The cardinal also noted the fear that exists in his and other dioceses that “people will just get used to being liturgical couch potatoes and watch the Mass every Sunday on video.”
As for his concern about the future of employment, Tobin fears that technology, and artificial intelligence in particular, does more harm than good.
“The technology is taking away jobs and not creating them except for a very elite cohort in society and this is going to continue,” Tobin said.
Kimberly Mazyck, senior manager of engagement and educational outreach at Catholic Charities USA, also invoked Fratelli Tutti to highlight the need for persistence in addressing issues that could slip back into the shadows as they were pre-COVID-19, especially racism and poverty.
“[Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti] said that, ‘racism is like a virus that quickly mutates and instead of disappearing goes into hiding and lurks in the waiting,” Mazyck recalled.
“Many things like that, if we don’t address them, if we don’t listen to what we need to hear, sometimes things that we don’t want to hear, then it may seem like it doesn’t exist anymore, but it’s just lurking and waiting for the opportunity to spring forth,” she continued. “We can’t turn a blind eye to poverty, and we can’t turn a blind eye to racism.”
One thing Mazyck noticed through the pandemic in her role at Catholic Charities USA was the uptick in the number of families that were food insecure. Ten days ago, however, she noticed a reduction in that number, which she attributes to the commitment from government agencies, organizations and nonprofits to help those in need.
One change she noted that paid dividends was the expansion of online purchasing in the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“If we respond appropriately, if we find ways to help families order online if they have SNAP, to enable them to get the food that is necessary based on their health needs, based on their cultural needs, people will eat and be able to work and perform and do well,” Mazyck said.
Looking ahead, Mazyck hopes the country doesn’t return back to normal as it was pre-COVID-19 pandemic, but instead continues to adapt.
“I hope we really say, we saw some things that weren’t right, we knew they weren’t right before the pandemic, how do we adapt to really fully address those through our church and through our communities?” she said.
At the start of day two of the CCHD event Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, also spoke about the future, though he didn’t mention any specific issues. Instead, he gave a broader message about the need to respect all people.
“We are relational beings. It’s an invitation to consider that each day, every moment of our lives, we are reminded of the fact that as relational beings we need to respect the demands of the relationship in which we live, and respecting those demands constitutes our justice before God and before each other,” Turkson said.
“We are invited to promote the dignity of each one of us and we are invited to live a life of justice. For that is the proof of our being of the one family of God, which is the church.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg