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Christian Ethics: An Interview with Father Frank Abbass.

Updated: Jan 11


Introduction


Father Francis Jobe Abbass was a Diocesan Priest in the Diocese of Antigonish in the province of Nova Scotia. He served the Diocese in numerous parishes for over forty years.


Father Abbass received a Masters degree in Religious Education (M.R.E.) from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. in the 1960's . He taught Religious Studies at the University College of Cape Breton, Sydney, Nova Scotia and served on the Board of Governors for St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Father Frank Abbass also served as Vice-President of the National Council of Priests.

The Rev. Francis J. Abbass (1931-2019)


Father Abbass helped create Sunday “Mass for Shut-ins" in 1963 when the manager of now CTV Cape Breton approached the Diocese of Antigonish and Father Abbass with the idea of a televised Sunday Mass. It became the first regular weekly Religious television Program serving all of Atlantic Canada.

I proudly served under Father Abbass from 1992 until 1998 as his Assistant in multiple areas of Lay Ministry. He was my Teacher and Mentor. In many ways, he formed and shaped my approach to Ministry. Below is my November 14th, 1997 interview with Father Abbass speaking on the issues of Justice.


On Justice


In your own words, can you tell me what justice is?


To me, Justice is fairness, doing what is right, beyond what is owed to people to a point of being generous. Jesus is prime example of what it means to be Just.


How is Jesus a prime example of being Just?


He had a terrific sense of equality. Everyone, whether they were Rich or Poor, Man or Woman, Jew or Gentile, had and still have, the opportunity to be part of the kingdom. Jesus taught us to be Just. If we are capable of being Just, than society would no longer need laws. As Christians, we know that Jesus is the law of love. Love and Justice co-exist in Christ.


So in light of this, your saying that there is a unique Christian understanding of Justice.


Yes, with Christian Justice, there is a vision of the world that would be restored to order, if it was not for Sin.


And does Sin prevent us from attaining Justice?


It really does, because we are created with potential to do good. Unfortunately, there are people who choose, in their daily lives, to do what is right for themselves; without concern about how it affects anyone else.


How do we do what's right for everybody, including ourselves?


Jesus requires us to be both loving and generous. As followers of Christ, we should relate Social Justice with the larger community, bringing Christ's principles of Justice, Truth and Love to bear on society. This must be done by everyone. By being involved in Social Justice, we begin to see the connection with Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King.


So we return to the model of Jesus Christ.


You remember the Principle, " When I was hungry, you gave me to eat...…". Christ, who is perceived today as a Server and Leader more so than King, teaches us to go out and be part of the world. Our acts of Justice and Love help bring about Social Order. In essence, we can put the world back on track. We begin to see people as family. This is certainly a Christian formula for social order.

Applying Justice


How is Justice applied?


First, you have to be involved enough to be aware of what injustice is and second, you must speak out. This is very difficult to do because you can hurt people.


What do you mean hurt people?


As a leader, you must at times take certain stands on issues in which there will be disagreements. When you have a Faith Community where there is striking workers and management present, you require Courage to overcome the knowledge that not everyone will see the wisdom of your views on what is Just.


That leads me to the Question of your involvement on Social Issues.


One of the first issues I dealt with was the treatment of the mentally challenged. Prior to the 1960's, people who were considered mentally retarded were quite often institutionalized. I questioned the view that these people were considered not normal. To me, normal was an individual attribute. When one observed the activities of the mentality challenged, it became quite obvious that they were performing their life skills well above what was considered normal for their abilities.


Did this motivate you to act?


Yes, the first thing I did was to help change the attitude of people toward the mentally challenged. We had to remove the prejudice. By showing that they were capable of living more independently, we were able move them out of the institutions and into group homes or even back home with their families. I hope someday that there will be no need for institutionalization at all. The purpose for such measures is to keep people until they behave a certain way in relation to public norms.


What was the result of your involvement on this issue of Social Justice?


Of course, it's an ongoing issue, but twenty-five ago, in cooperation with the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded, with the assistance of the Federal and Provincial Governments, we were able to establish the first group home on Cape Breton Island. Along with the physical change of group homes and home care, we also experienced change of attitude in the treatment of the mentally challenged. I also had the pleasure of introducing Religious Education for the mentally challenged and for the first time, they received the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation.


Has there been anything else that you have done in relation to Social Justice?


In 1978, after a two year stay in Lebanon, due to a war inflicted injury, I spoke to the media across Canada about the plight of victims of war and International Injustice. Having experienced the horror of a brutal civil-war, I had to speak out about the injustice being done on innocent non-combatants around the world.


How about Social Justice within our Community?


There are a number of things. I've helped make available greater access of communication for people who either can not afford it or would have little access to things such as teleconferencing, computer and cable hook-up. This will give those people who are at an educational or financial disadvantage a fair chance to improve their life. I am founding chairman of the Industrial Cape Breton Council of Clergy. It is an ecumenical organization with mandate to work together on Social issues.


How do you apply Social Justice within the Parish? What is you role as pastor in this case?


As Pastor, My role is to Educate the people to follow Christ and to help them put the world back on track by bringing Justice, Truth and Love into the world. The Pastor must also connect the Gospel and Prayer to the demands of Society.


In what way do you do that?


Once again, look at Christ's Vision. We are one family and my job as priest is to enable people to share that vision. We all have Value to contribute to each other, to Love one another and to do what is right, what is Just.


End of Interview.


Originally submitted as a Paper to the Rev. Dr. Christopher Levan as a Master of Theological Studies course requirement for 513v - Introduction to Christian Ethics St. Stephen's Theological College University of Alberta Published on November 14th, 1997 {Revised December 7th, 2023}


© Dr. Charles Warner 2023

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