| By Mary Kay McPartlin

Profile of an Evangelist - March 2014

Feeling the power of FAITH SHARING

Ed Welch, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas/St. John Student Center in East Lansing, participates in the Catholic faith-sharing group JustFaith, a program designed to explore the Church’s stance on social justice.

He believes the power of his faith-sharing group, JustFaith, makes a difference not only in his understanding of world needs, but also in his relationship with Christ. “The important part of the group is how our faith is at the bottom of it,” says Ed.

Social justice is the main focus of JustFaith. During the program participants look at world and local issues, and study the stance of the Catholic Church on each issue. The group reads and discusses such topics as the environment, race relations, hunger and poverty.

“We only view them through a faith perspective. This particular program is quite structured,” Ed says. “It runs for 24 weeks. We meet for two hours once a week. We also go out on four immersion experiences.”

JustFaith incorporates life experiences of group members into topic discussion. “There is a lot of reading in this program. The readings and the meetings for this are quite demanding. It takes a lot of time,” says Ed. “But it is the sharing experience in this group that is the most beautiful and rewarding part.”

The program has been in existence for about 15 years, according to Ed: “This is the fourth consecutive year the parish has offered JustFaith. Personally, it has impacted me in three different ways. It helps me formulate my view of social and political issues. By discussing these issues in a faith-based group it has increased my faith, and strengthened my relationship with Jesus Christ. By studying what the church has to say on these issues it has strengthened my appreciation for all the things the Catholic Church has done.”

With the Catholic Church’s new leader, social justice issues are more relevant. “I think in the last eight months Pope Francis has brought many of these issues to the forefront,” says Ed. “People are often surprised at how much the Church has to say on social justice issues.”

Catholics are expected to be responsible not just in caring for friends and family, but also for the stranger. It is important to find Christ in those around us. “It is in many ways better to see people as individuals and to see Christ in the individuals,” Ed says. “The JustFaith program reminds us we can have individual sin and we can have societal sin. We each, as individuals, are responsible for what society does.”

Although the program lasts for only 24 weeks, the JustFaith experience makes an impact on participants and inspires action. Some return to lead new groups, as Ed has. Others get involved in making a difference in the local community.

“People go on and carry it forward in a variety of ways,” he says. Since social justice issues are part of everyday life, he says that “It comes up all the time when you see homeless people on the streets, when you read about budget cuts and food stamps, when you talk about health care.” Looking at these issues from Christ’s perspective is the goal of JustFaith. “I think what it does is encourage you to let your faith affect how you think about those issues,” says Ed. “I would encourage everyone to try whatever small faith group that is available. This is a great opportunity.”

Ed concludes, “This particular type of faith sharing group requires a big commitment but I think there are big rewards that come from it.”