The Times Picayune: Trinity Catholic Church talks immigration in Sept. 5 speaker dinner

August 31, 2017 – Karen Baker

The dignity of work. Immigration. The death penalty. Homelessness.

Those are four topics that can be tough to tackle, but Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church near Covington has taken on the task of educating people about what the Catholic Church teaches about these issues and why. The series of talks on “Catholic Social Teaching” kicked off in August with Fr. Fred Kammer, S.J., giving a general overview of how Catholic Social Teaching developed. Kammer, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans, also spoke on the dignity of work.

On Tuesday, Sept. 5, Martin Gutierrez, division director at Catholic Charities of New Orleans, will discuss the issue of immigration. A dinner is served at 6:45 p.m., and the speaker begins at 7:15 p.m.

Claire Restrepo and a committee at the church began discussing the speaker series last summer after the pastor, Rev. Rodney Bourg, encouraged them to start working on one of the priorities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans 9th General Synod: Be a Voice and Witness for Catholic Social Teaching.

“Fr. Rodney asked us to get something together and work on something,” Restrepo said.

Although the committee met a few times, members could not come up with exactly what to do or how to go about it.

But then things converged in just the right way. Restrepo, who is in formation with the Institute for Lay Ecclesial Ministry at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, had to come up with something for a practicum, and suddenly she realized what might work: She could put her church parish work and her education together.

“This was a win-win for Fr. Rodney, the committee and my practicum,” Restrepo said. 

She met with other committee members and came up with a plan for a speaker series that would include a dinner.

“We wanted to do it and do it well,” Restrepo said. 

Although she said she knew she could not do the actual presentations, “I knew I could throw together a dinner and line up speakers.”

She started with the Office of Justice and Peace for the archdiocese, where director Kevin Fitzpatrick gave her a list of possible speakers. From there, all she had to do was call, organize, and “throw together” the meal, with help from her committee, which includes Deacon Tom Caffery, Jim Vallee, Cheryl Bowen-Rouan, and Karen Arnold.

After the immigration talk on Sept. 5, the church will host Sidney Garmon on criminal justice and alternatives to the death penalty on Oct. 2; Stephanie Dupepe of Catholic Charities Northshore will wrap things up on Nov. 6 with a talk on homelessness in St. Tammany Parish. 

“Catholic Social Teaching” is not the easiest topic to present and hope to draw a crowd, but the August presentation went very well and had a great turnout, Restrepo said. 

“‘Catholic Social Teaching’ is not about setting up a welfare state,” she said. “It’s about the dignity of the human being.”

“The main thing is to educate,” she said, “And then we can become a community of salt and light.”  

That, she said, is the challenge: Once the four presentations are over, how can those who attended live out the messages they learned?

Restrepo said she and several others at Most Holy Trinity and other parishes in West St. Tammany went through a program called Just Faith several years ago, which also concentrated on the social teaching.

“We never did anything with it,” she said, and so she is hoping this new effort bears fruit.

As for this month’s speaker, Martin Gutierrez, Restrepo said, “He is wonderful. He sure knows his stuff.”

Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church is located at 501 Holy Trinity Drive, Covington, behind Lakeview Regional Medical Center. For information, call 985.892.0642.

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