Rev. Carlos Flor, the new pastor of Jamaica Plain’s Catholic parishes, made a good point in his welcome-to-JP interview with the Gazette. He said that by strengthening religious communities, his churches hopefully will be of better “service to the neighborhoods.”
JP is often sorely missing the voices of religious leaders in its important local discussions. We are a far cry from the days when local pastors were so involved in the community that their names are now on such places as the Connolly Branch Library and the Casey Overpass.
There are understandable reasons for that. Church attendance has plunged in an increasingly secular society. Pastors are often overwhelmed caring for small congregations in expensive church buildings. Moral authority has been lost due to some denominations’ horrific scandals over sexual abuse and other crimes.
And most religious institutions are already very busy. There are regular ceremonies to conduct for births, marriages, deaths. There is the largely unsung volunteerism in local food pantries, hospitals and shelters. Many local religious leaders participate in powerful activist efforts at the city, national and international levels.
But it remains rare to hear a religious leader speak up at any of JP’s myriad community meetings. Recent hot topics include a home for at-risk children being replaced by luxury apartments; a roadway being altered amid environmental concerns on both sides; and the public schools being rearranged and redesigned.
Priests and rabbis, pastors and imams, are people who have sacrificed significantly to devote their lives to seeing and feeling deeply, to caring for the forgotten and reviled, to questioning wealth and authority, to holding a higher standard. We could have used that perspective in all of those disputes and more.
Increasingly, community debates in JP are about who will get money and who will have power, not about who will get justice and who will have compassion.
We understand that religious leaders already have enormous mountains to climb. We simply say that their voices should be heard and would be welcome indeed.