JUSTeach Newsletter

December 2004

social justice education

Celebrate “Human Rights Dayon December 10!

             Those who are active in the cause of Human Rights commemorate December 10th each year as Human Rights Day, the date of the adoption of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  This important date in the world’s ongoing history is not one generally observed in Catholic churches or circles, but prompted us in the Peace and Social Justice Office this year to look again at the attention given to Human Rights in Catholic teaching. 

            Pope John Paul II noted in 1995, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time.”  Protection of human rights, in their many forms, is central to most Catholic Social Teaching documents as well.  Countless websites highlight the connection, including some from Catholic dioceses around the world.  Visit the “user-friendly” website of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for excerpts from CST documents on human rights, www.osjspm.org/cst/q_rights.htm

A couple of Catholic organizations highlight famous and “not-so-famous” activists for human rights on their sites: 

1)      The Southern Cross, National Catholic Weekly of Southern Africa, features “16 Catholic Human Rights Heroes” at www.thesoutherncross.co.za/human_rights.

2)      The Claretians on-line magazine, Salt of the Earth, published an excellent article in 2003 by Christopher Ringwald, titled “Who is my neighbor? How six people came to work for human rights,” found at www.salt.claretianpubs.org/issues/worldcom/neighbor.html.  (This is geared for older students, but the stories can be adapted for younger students.) 

The most useful secular website we’ve found for human rights education in general is that of  the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library and Resource Center.  Many of the vast array of human rights lesson plans and activities which they have either produced or catalogued are suitable for use in Catholic school or R.E. programs.  Since most of these are rather intensive or require more than one class period, we’ve chosen to highlight just two which are shorter and easy to use – from a curriculum entitled Human Rights Here and Now: Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (edited by Nancy Flowers).  While these and most of the activities are better used with middle school and older students, tips are given to adapt the ideas for younger students:


1)      “Human Rights Squares” (Activity 4) challenges the class to complete a page full of “questions,” each contained within a box, with answers provided by different students in the class; http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Part-3/Activity4.htm

 2)      “Windows and Mirrors” (Activity 10) uses photos of people from all over the world to help students reflect on which features of these people are “mirrors” of their own selves, and which serve as “windows” into a new culture or group of people;  http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Part-3/Activity_10.htm