Signs of the Times: A Catholic Social Tradition Blog

"The Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics," Gaudium et Spes: a Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965. In the following blog, Center faculty, staff, and partners scrutinize the "signs of the times" in the light of the Gospel and Catholic social tradition.

Grace Munene, Assistant Director, International Summer Service Learning Program for Africa, Center for Social Concerns, May 2019

The recently concluded Global Health and Innovation Conference convened a wide range of stakeholders in the field of global health from former ministers of health, leaders of non-profit organizations, faculty, health professionals, researchers, journalists, artists, and students, among others. Attendees come from almost every state in the United States and from other countries in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Latin America. The discussions held at this annual meeting explore innovative ways that attendees are applying to respond to the need for access to quality health care for every person around the world. 

Anna Blackman, Research Fellow, Center for Social Concerns, March 2019

Over the last several years, populism has become a political buzzword, being used to refer to numerous left and right interpretations, but all approaches share in common the idea of the “people” over and against the “elite.” At first this might seem close to Catholic social teaching’s idea of both the option for the poor and the common good, holding to account a corrupt elite. However, in reality, the way that populism manifests itself has very little to do with either of these principles, often actively violating them.


Karen Manier, Lead Coordinator, Postgraduate Service, Center for Social Concerns, February 2019.

The Center’s theme this ​year—a lens for focusing our work, given the vast number of social issues confronting our world—is “Moving Margins: Living the Option for the Poor,” an important tenet of Catholic social teaching. We are called to the margins, the edges of society, to stand alongside the over 13 million forgotten and discarded men, women, and children living in poverty in the United States. alone. But more than that, we are called to move those margins—to bring the outsiders “in,” or, in the words of Fr. Greg Boyle: “If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased.”

Melissa Marley Bonnichsen, Director, Leadership Formation, Center for Social Concerns, December 2018.

“In the poor [vulnerable], we find the presence of Jesus, who, though rich, became poor.. in their weakness, a saving power is present. And if in the eyes of the world they have little value, they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven. They are our passport to paradise...”1

She did not yet understand the fullness of what was happening when he told her, but she believed him and obeyed. Quickly she packed the child’s clothes and the gifts that had been given. How much could she bring? Where would they go? What would happen when they got there? Too many questions for a chaotic moment like this.

Felicia Johnson O'Brien, Assistant Director, Summer Service Learning Program, Center for Social Concerns, October 31, 2018.

I have a love-hate relationship with the word solidarity. It’s a beautiful, inspiring principle. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on solidarity boldly declares, “Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.” In reality, though, this charge to an authentic, universal love in a wounded world is incredibly daunting, and I find myself falling very short of the mark.


Bill Purcell, Senior Associate Director for Catholic Social Tradition, Center for Social Concerns, September 24, 2018.

The Catholic social tradition remains a true gift from the Church to the world. The Center for Social Concerns is attempting to share the fruits of that gift. During the decade and a half I worked for the institutional Catholic Church on social justice issues, from the Archdiocese of Washington to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archdiocese of Chicago, I often heard that the Catholic social tradition (CST) was a secret within the Church.


Kyle Lantz, Social Concerns Seminars Assistant Director, April 13, 2018.

“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation,” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Memphis, TN. April 3, 1968). Has there ever been a time in our young nation’s history when these words did not ring true? 


Jimena Holguin, International Summer Service Learning Program Latin America Assistant Director, March 6, 2018.

In October 2016, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, held a plebiscite to ratify the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end more than five decades of war. The question of the plebiscite was: “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?” 50.2% of the voters voted no, and 49.8% voted in favor. The results reflected the deep polarization that the conflict left behind among Colombians, and showed us a challenging path towards reconciliation.

Ben Wilson, Summer Service Learning Program Director, Center for Social Concerns, February 14, 2018.

Peacebuilding might seem at first blush to belong to the rarified domain of diplomats, security councils, and top military brass -- in short, people far removed and far different from many of us. And yet, during Pope Francis’s January visit to Chile, he placed the mantle of responsibility for peacemaking squarely on the shoulders of anyone capable of doing anything at all: “Do you want peace? Then work for peace. A peacemaker knows that it is not enough simply to say: ‘I am not hurting anybody.’ As St. Alberto Hurtado used to say, ‘It is very good not to do wrong, but very bad not to do good.’" 

Margie Pfeil, Department of Theology and the Center for Social Concerns, January 10, 2018.

On Nov. 8-10, 2017, I had the great privilege of attending a conference hosted at the Vatican on the topic of nuclear disarmament, thanks to the generous support of the Theology Department and at the invitation of Jerry Powers of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where I am a Fellow. This gathering of scholars, activists, Nobel laureates, and ecclesial leaders was marked by many insightful contributions, not least from Pope Francis, who issued a statement condemning not only the use but also the possession of nuclear weapons.


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