Allowing diversity to divide people leads to alienation, but embracing diversity will enable a new sense of community that gives man divine powers to shape the world for the better, said Father Jack Wall, president of the Catholic Extension Society.
Wall, the former pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, observed that diversity often creates conflicts. “People are rubbing against each other, and when there is rubbing there is heat and the possibility of friction.” Such friction can divide people by religion, ethnicity or geography, he continued. “Division becomes alienation, and alienation becomes oppression and domination.”
Delivering the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture on March 1 at the Frick Center, Wall noted that globalization opens a way to bring people together. Real-time communication exposes us to upheavals such as the turmoil in the Middle East. Yet that closeness has created a new sense of community and an unprecedented opportunity to break down barriers that separate people.
“Clearly this is a moment of great opportunity. Something is stirring in the human spirit and human soul. Our hope is that this will mean everyone counts, that everyone makes a difference,” he said. “We are at a crossroads moment in which we’re being invited to shape and create a whole new world.”
Wall’s lecture on community building in a diverse society was part of the College’s yearlong focus on religion in public life, Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith.
Wall is the former pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, on the western edge of Chicago’s downtown, and is credited with reviving a moribund parish. When he was named pastor in 1983, St. Patrick’s had just four registered parishioners, and the church was still open mainly because it was the second parish founded in Chicago and the city’s oldest public building. It is one of the few structures that survived the 1871 Chicago Fire.
Under Wall’s leadership, Old St. Pat’s flourished, attracting a diverse community from around the Chicago area and growing to 4,000 parishioners. He established the Community Outreach Group, a network of 500 individuals that volunteer for programs such as adult literacy, tutoring for children and homeless shelters. The church’s major fundraising event is the World’s Largest Block Party, an annual summer event that attracts more than 20,000.
Wall also is the co-founder of Theology on Tap, a series of lectures and conversations aimed at young adult Catholics that has been controversial because some events are held in establishments that serve liquor. In his current position at the Catholic Extension Society, he heads a missionary organization that serves isolated and poor communities across the U.S.
Reaching out to others is at the core of faith and “the heart of who we are,” Wall said, recounting that during the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples that man’s purpose was to serve others and, thus, serve God.
“You don’t have to be Christian to understand what Jesus was trying to reveal. We are in communion with one another,” he said. “When you’re into loving and into giving life to each other, you are divine. Living this divine power and spirit gives hope to the world.”