For years, the US Catholic bishops have used a “two feet” model to explain how Jesus’ disciples are called to put God’s love into action to address the problems that face our local and global communities. The “two feet” are charitable works and social justice. Charitable works describe those immediate actions we can take to address the needs of families and individuals in short-term ways, like serving at a soup kitchen or donating money to emergency relief efforts. Social justice addresses the root causes of problems, with the aim of making long-term change that will affect many people. Fixing flawed laws or policies, and promoting economic development are examples of social justice. Both “feet” are complementary and necessary. This concept can be tough to teach to adults, let alone children! But it just got easier with two new children’s storybooks published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in partnership with Loyola Press: Green Street Park is a story about a boy named Philip, who lives on Green Street. He loves his neighborhood, but the park he and his friends play at is in rough shape. When Philip and his friends complain about the park, their teacher, Sr. Mary Clare, challenges them to follow the example of St. Francis and care for creation in their own backyard. They clean up trash and they also work to engage their parents and community—even the mayor—in “fixing” the park. The end result? A safe, clean place to play and a community garden that produces healthy food for neighborhood families and the parish soup kitchen. In Drop by Drop, Sr. Mary Jerome's class has a visit from her nephew, Mr. Mike, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa. Mr. Mike shares about his friend, Sylvie, a little girl who could not go to school because it took several hours each day for her and her sisters to walk to a river and collect clean water for their family. CRS and the community implement a water project, and this means Sylvie can finally go to school. The students listening to Mr. Mike’s story decide to help through a creative project of their own. As a parent, I’m excited about these two new books because they are such a great tool in helping children learn about our call, as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the problems that affect our neighborhoods and world. They explore real issues that children in the U.S. and around the world face, and spark imagination about how children can be involved in creative charitable works and social justice solutions. Loyola Press has created a beautiful reflection guide to help children (and their parents) pray with the books, as well as downloadable worksheets for educators. I hope you’ll join me in sharing these super new books with children in your lives. This week (April 20-24, 2015), in honor of Earth Day and both books’ focus on caring for creation, you can also visit USCCB Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to participate in a contest. You might even win a free copy of one of the books!
Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.