I had the pleasure attending the Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference in Paradise, Texas from March 20-23, 2003. During this conference, the lecturers not only offered knowledge that benefited us intellectually, but also offered knowledge that will benefit the people surrounding us in our future ministries. The information that I learned from the seminar has changed the way I view community, welfare reform, the poor, governmental issues, globalization, rights, freedoms, economics, and religious differences. These issues were mostly discussed in a conference setting but quite a few of the subjects were discussed among groups at breaks, meals, and while commuting to and from the airport.
The discussions pertained to life in the world today. For example, Ismael Hernandez talked about welfare reform and the negative effects this has had on minorities and the poor. Hernandez talked about how we, religious communities, look at the poor and treat them as though they are limited in their cognitive development and therefore cannot think on their own or provide for themselves. Hernandez got to the heart of the matter when saying that we need to stop treating people like dogs, filling their dinner dish and letting them come and go as they please, and help them find dignity. As Father Sirico articulated, the religious communities need to encourage individuals to first and foremost find value and accomplishment in providing for self. Then, families, neighbors, agencies, and businesses need to walk along side of those that are trying to take care of themselves and their families to offer assistance. Welfare does enable the majority of the poor; the government, though, should be the last to offer assistance to citizens. When people do not make an effort to invest into society they are not using the talents God has bestowed upon them.
This is an example of only one of the many topics that we discussed in detail at the conference. As graduate students (Master or seminary), we are to become the next generation of leaders within the Catholic and Protestant communities; therefore, we need to work towards becoming better educated about these specific issues so that we can have a better understanding of God’s children and their lives. We need to be the ones that teach morals, integrity, love, and truth; we need to be examples of Christian, neighborly love. As religious leaders we need to encourage third world country governments or dictators the value of human needs, rights, and freedoms; we need to walk along side of all or our brothers and sisters and teach them from our mistakes. I have been recommending the Acton Toward a Free and Virtuous Society conference to all of my colleagues. If you have an opportunity to attend and experience this wonderful conference that Acton provides, take it. You will walk away with a wealth of information that can change people’s lives!