Fr. Eduardo Soto Parra
WINNIPEG – The quest for social justice involves a struggle with those who inflict social injustice. But the greater struggle is with ourselves, says a Venezuelan Jesuit who has taught ethics and human rights and lived and worked among the poor in a Caracas slum.
Father Eduardo Soto Parra said the struggle for social justice begins as a personal attitude. There is "a greater struggle" that is more than personal. But the ideologies that drive social injustice are "very close to us in ways that are both subtle and blatant."
Speaking at Winnipeg's St. Ignatius Church, he told a story of his first day of ministry in a hospital in Venezuela.
He thought he knew hospitals, being the son of two pediatricians who worked in clean, organized, happy nurseries. He discovered the hospital he was to work in was ill-equipped, dirty and smelly. He wanted to run.
"And then I thought, 'Am I thinking of them or am I thinking of me?' I said to myself, 'I can help them today and I won't think about tomorrow.' And that is the greatest struggle of social justice, it is with ourselves." Soto Parra said.
"The lesser struggle is with those who inflict social injustice."
Soto Parra was a professor in philosophy and law at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas.
He lived in a Caracas slum where he was involved in public school education and also worked as a lawyer with Jesuit Refugee Service International in Brazil, Panama, and Venezuela.
Soto Parra currently lives with parolees from Stony Mountain Penitentiary at Quixote House in downtown Winnipeg, created by the Winnipeg Jesuit community as a safe place that provides men leaving prison a chance to live in a supportive environment as they look for new opportunities.
Stubborn myths surround the struggle for social justice, he said. The first myth of social justice, he said, is people get what they deserve.
"It is a myth to say someone deserves to be poor because they are lazy, or they are addicts, or they are refugees."
The myth of the impartiality of the law "is an assumption that hides the inequality and injustice suffered by aboriginal people and women. The fact is, there is one culture that dominates another," Soto Parra said, be it a white culture, or a male culture.
To say the rule of a democratic majority is responsible for justice "is like saying 'the state is responsible for everything, I'm not responsible for anything,'" he said. "The state's responsibility is a myth that blinds a man from an accurate concept of what social justice is."
"Social justice pleads for a humanity that could make progress in the respect for the environmental resources for future generations. But even though there is increasing sensibility around the harm that industrialization has done to nature, the people and communities most affected by pollution don't play a significant role in the decision-making process."