January 26, 2015 — Jesuit Father Michael Czerny’s long career in the field of social justice has taken him from El Salvador to Africa to the Holy See. Today he pursues his work from inside the Vatican on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
The Montreal native graduated from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, in 1968 with a joint degree in philosophy and literature. He then attended the University of Chicago, where he earned a doctorate. Fr. Czerny said the program’s “disciplined pluralism has served me well in the problem-solving, dialogue, teamwork and communication” required by his work as a Jesuit and now at the Vatican.
After the 1989 murders at the University of Central America (UCA) of six Jesuit scholars, their housekeeper and her daughter during the 13-year Salvadoran civil war, the Society of Jesus assigned Jesuits from abroad to fill the posts of their fallen companions. Fr. Czerny was one of those who was sent. His duties at the UCA included teaching philosophy, parish ministry and directing the university’s Institute of Human Rights. By documenting and denouncing human rights violations, Fr. Czerny said, the institute contributed to United Nations-led negotiations between the government of El Salvador and the rebel coalition, ending the war in 1992.
Another career highlight for Fr. Czerny was his work as founding director of the African Jesuit AIDS Network, an organization he said helps “respond to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in an effective, evangelical and coordinated manner.” The group is more than a clinic and counseling service, he explained; its wide-ranging activities include music, art and literature programs for AIDS patients, as well as care for orphans of those killed by the disease.
In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI called Fr. Czerny to serve at the Vatican with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Founded in 1967 in response to a proposal of the Second Vatican Council, the Council supports the church’s work on a range of issues that threaten the dignity of human life. Fr. Czerny said the office acts as an instrument of evangelization, since many individuals have come to know Christ through the church’s response to violations of human rights.
Fr. Czerny serves as assistant to the council’s president, Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, and his duties include attending conferences and meetings, writing speeches and occasionally travelling with the cardinal. “I am always drawing on the many wonderful contacts I have made all over the world in my 50 years as a Jesuit, to engage willing hearts and great minds in the work of justice and peace,” he said.
Fr. Czerny said Christians must be “infected with the joy of being followers of Christ” in order to face the challenges of modern society. “They are, first and finally, ethical and spiritual challenges,” he said. “Do we have the courage to face them as mature men and women? Or do we keep on letting ourselves off the hook and taking the easy way out?” [Source:Catholic Sentinel]