The relationship between St. Dominic Parish in Mobile, Alabama and the Archdiocese of San Salvador is unique and perhaps exemplar of the ideal expression of a sister relationship. Let’s take a look at this relationship in terms of the two basic principles of the social teachings of the Catholic Church: solidarity and subsidiarity.
As articulated by Pope John Paul II solidarity is a principle that promotes the common good and urges Christians to act on behalf of the well being of all, especially those who are most poor and marginalized. Solicitudo Rei Socialis is the clearest expression of modern Catholic Social Teaching. In it Pope John Paul II identified solidarity as a constitutive element of the Gospel and essential for lasting peace. “Solidarity helps us to see the 'other'-whether a person, people or nation-not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our 'neighbor,' a 'helper' to be made a sharer on a par with ourselves in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.”
The solidarity of the people of St. Dominic Parish in Mobile has taken on many different expressions over the last fifteen years. As we prepare this blog for the new website of the Vicariate, we are awaiting the arrival of Lee Benbow, a teacher and musician from St. Dominic who will be with us in a few days to participate in the annual School for Creativity. This program was begun 10 years ago with St. Dominic Help and has since grown into a program with national outreach. Every year groups from St. Dominic visit El Salvador. Fr. Jim Cink, the pastor of St. Dominic, has been with us on three occasions, taking time out from his busy schedule to bear up under the hot Salvadoran sun and share his faith and compassion with the people of Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Calle Real. Economic support for parish initiatives – some of which bear fruit and others that do not – is another expression of solidarity. The lives and well being of El Salvador and its powerful neighbor to the north are closely related. While the Church does not enter the political fray, speaking on behalf of justice for poor countries like El Salvador and lobbying legislators to support initiatives in favor of justice is a very important expression of solidarity.
St. Dominic is a politically pluralistic parish with a wide range of opinions. But it is unified in its support for justice and one of its “conversation partners” in the area of international relations is its sister parish in El Salvador.
But solidarity can be oppressive when it fails to hold to the standard – equally important – of subsidiarity. A sister relationship is, in effect, an organization composed of two parts. The two parts are also organized. While it shares similarities with parishes sin the United States, the pastoral organization of St. Dominic is different from ours. Subsidiarity is a Catholic principle of organization that says that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. The more powerful should not dominate the less powerful and within each organization, central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. In the Church, support for this principle goes back to Pope Pius XI who wrote, "It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and/or industry."
Some solidarity organizations, well meaning to be sure, operate outside of the norms of subsidiarity. They analyze the problems in a certain country, like El Salvador, and determine what ails us. Then they offer a cure and make the medicine available in terms of funding for projects thought up in foreign think tanks.
In hindsight, since the beginning of the relationship between St. Dominic and Our Lady of Lourdes in Calle Real, the “conversation” between the two parishes seems to have taken its lead from theologian David Tracy who wrote: "Conversation is a game with some hard rules: say only what you mean; say it as accurately as you can; listen to and respect what the other says, however different or other; be willing to correct or defend your opinions if challenged by the conversation partner; be willing to argue if necessary, to confront if demanded, to endure necessary conflict, to change your mind if the evidence suggests it."
Two of the leaders of the sister parish relationship are Zippy and John Doll. Every year when the two parishes get together in El Salvador, John leads the conversation with well expressed opinions, hard questions, an open heart and willingness to listen, to learn and to change his mind, when the evidence is clear. Husband and wife exemplify the fundamental qualities of a sister relationship: ask the hard questions, insist on accountability and trust your partner to do the very best with the solidarity your parish offers.