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Patrick Keenan: A dose of Advent hope

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20th in the series

One of the privileges of getting out and around the Catholic community reporting on The Emerging Church series has been the opportunity to meet up with a new generation of Catholics who carry a deep witness to some of the most troubled corners of the country.

Patrick Keenan is one of them. He comes out of a Franciscan formation and a serious understanding and experience of the Catholic social justice tradition.

During a visit to Hopeworks 'N Camden, an organization that helps disadvantaged youth re-imagine their lives while training them in use of new technologies, I had a long conversation with Keenan.

A slightly edited transcript of that interview can be found here.

Toward the end of the conversation, Keenan said of himself and a number of his friends:

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"All of us are living out our faith in a very personal way. The problem is that then we go into the institutional church and there’s a disconnect between what’s being said in the pulpit and what’s being done in the streets. Also you look at some of the debates we’re obsessed with -- my whole thing is, no matter where you stand on abortion, which is pivotal in the Catholic Church, I think we should be pro-life.

"But for me, that means pro-life for all the years, not just natural death and natural birth. Those are the two opposite ends of life. We have to be pro-life from the moment of conception to the moment of death, meaning that when someone’s a third-grader and doesn’t have health care and is getting a substandard education, that’s shameful, that’s sinful.

"We’re committing a grave social injustice and we’re allowing that to happen. We’re being like the scribes and the Pharisees of the Old Testament; we’re worried about these heady things and when life begins and what to do and how to argue, and a theological position on it, and here’s the five points and here’s what this council says and what our history says.

"But what we’re talking about is we have to strengthen life at all of its points and we have to be there for the people that are in all their different forms of brokenness. We have to be there for the people in their addiction, we have to be there for gays and sexual minorities, we have to be there for women in oppressed situations and we have to do that by our example, our faithfulness."

He had lots more to say -- a good dose of Advent hope.

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Tom Roberts, NCR editor at large, is traveling the country reporting on church life. His e-mail address is troberts@ncronline.org. Read the full series here: In Search of the Emerging Church.

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