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A saintly social justice mash-up

Thea Kurniawan  |  26 May 2020

Regular readers will be familiar with our ‘Sneaky Jesus Songs’ series that highlights songs with lyrics that, if looked at in a certain light, could be seen as religious hymns. Inspired by that series, we’ve put a mash-up of tunes that could be related to the stories of some inspiring social justice saints.

St Katherine Drexel
Song: You – James Arthur, featuring Travis Barker

You were in the wilderness
Looking for your own purpose…’
‘…Cause they were throwing stick and stones
But words could never break your bones
You just spread you wings and fly, your wings and fly
I knew there always was nothing wrong with being… (you)’

Born in Philadelphia, USA, in 1858, Katherine Drexel’s family was wealthy, and also strong in their faith. Katherine developed a strong connection with God when she was young, living out her faith in charitable ways in the community.

In 1887, while in Europe seeking missionaries to come and help marginalised Native American communities, Katherine had a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. Upon seeing her, the Holy Father suggested she herself should become a missionary.

After that encounter, she decided she would dedicate herself and her sizeable inheritance to religious life and outreach to the marginalised. In 1891, Katherine made her first vows and lived her life working to support the welfare of American Indians and African Americans. Her work helped give voice to the voiceless, those struggling to receive an education and those who were discriminated because of their race.

St Francis of Assisi
Song: What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong

‘I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom, for me and you
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.’

Potentially the original Earth Day advocate, Francis is well-known to be a lover of animals and all of creation.

Born in Italy around 1181, his youth was spent serving as a soldier but he had a conversion experience and renounced his family’s wealth to serve God.

Francis saw God’s goodness in nature and the environment, writing about it extensively in his composition of songs, Canticle of the Sun.

St Francis’ sermons encouraged people to embrace all creatures as brothers and sisters of one family and offer respect, dignity and care to each member, as well as the flora and fauna that are around us. He was even known to preach to animals.

His work and dedication to poverty, humility and compassion attracted large amounts of followers and in 1209, he received permission from Pope Innocent III to form the Franciscan order.

St Mother Teresa
Song: If We Have Each Other – Alec Benjamin

‘When the world’s not perfect
When the world’s not kind
If we have each other then we’ll both be fine
I will be your mother, and I’ll hold your hand
You should know I’ll be there for you.’

Known for her selfless charity working among the poorest of the poor, it is no surprise Mother Teresa of Calcutta is part of this list. She was born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in 1910, in present day North Macedonia. At the age of 12 Anjezë felt a strong call to follow God. She knew she had to be a missionary and spread the love of Christ.

Her generosity and dedication to the poor and the sick led her to working with the Sisters of Loreto and founding the Missionaries of Charity. Across 69 years of service, she led her congregation to manage homes for people who were dying of diseases including HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; running soup kitchens; organising family counselling programs as well as orphanages and schools.

St Mother Teresa’s legacy continues even today, inspiring everyone to exercise their human rights and defend those who are abandoned, unborn and discarded.

St Martin De Porres
Song: Glory – Common featuring John Legend

‘Every day women and men become legends
Sins that go against our skin become blessings…’
‘…Welcome to the story we call victory
The comin’ of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory.’

Born in 1579 in Lima, Peru, Martin was the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and a freed slave woman from Panama who was African or Native American. Because of his ‘tainted’ heritage, Martin was ridiculed throughout his childhood.

His mother brought him up as a Christian, and at age 15 he began work as a lay helper at the Dominican Convent of the Rosary. While Martin was close to God, Peruvian law stated that no mixed-race person could become a full member of religious orders. Nevertheless, he continued volunteering at the convent as a jack-of-all-trades, from nurse to cloister sweeper. His charity, obedience and humility impressed the community such that after nine years of service, they insisted the racist rule be dropped and he be accepted as a Religious.

After that, Martin founded an orphanage and a children’s hospital. He also worked on the streets, caring for victims of the bubonic plague. In his religious life, he would show care and compassion to everyone regardless of their race.

St Mary MacKillop
Song: Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston

‘I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way…’
‘…No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity.’

Australia’s first saint was born in Fitzroy in 1842. In 1860, she worked as a governess in South Australia, where she looked after and taught children. She knew there were other farm children who needed looking after, so she began teaching more and opened her own boarding school in 1864.

After realising there were still many communities lacking education, particularly Catholic education, Mary decided to expand her efforts and also declared her dedication to doing this work for God. In 1866, she founded the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Josephites), a congregation that established schools and welfare institutions throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Due to the high number of rural communities, she emphasised work on the education of the rural poor, particularly children. She was a firm believer that people should never see a need and do nothing to help.


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