“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
– Luke 10:29
In May 2015, after graduating and finishing my internship with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) in Washington, DC, I moved to Elyria, Ohio, a small town 25 minutes from Cleveland. I got a job at a local health department and got married, then we adopted a puppy and consequently met more of our neighbors. I felt satisfied and comfortable, but Jesus’ response to the young man’s question above surely wasn’t in the forefront of my mind.
Late in 2017, I received an email from the national CCHD office offering scholarships for former CCHD interns to attend the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) and afterwards, volunteer with their diocese’s CCHD efforts. I applied, and earlier this month I found myself at the CSMG in Washington, DC.
During the opening keynote, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo quoted Pope Francis: “Indifference is the greatest sin today.” He explained that despite globalization, which has made all of us more interconnected in some ways, we seem to care less about each other, as exemplified in the very negative rhetoric that often characterizes the debate around immigration. “Any action, even drinking a cup of coffee, affects someone else,” he explained.
During the long weekend, I learned about my neighbors around the world. I listened to a panel of speakers explain how their homes in the Amazon are threatened by environmental devastation and disregard for indigenous rights. In workshops, I learned how the Farm Bill provides not only SNAP (food stamps) but also international food assistance and development aid. In conversation during breaks I learned about the Lao Catholic Association of Columbus (OH) and efforts for economic empowerment in St. Louis. Through this gentle reopening, I rediscovered my neighbors throughout the world.
The experience woke me up from the indifference I had fallen into. I am now looking forward to several concrete ways to bring my experience home. Throughout the conference, I reflected on my response to one particular theme of Catholic social teaching: the call to family, community, and participation, and this theme provides the perfect framing for my next steps:
- Family: One action that I already identified prior to attending the conference as part of my scholarship application was to work with my diocesan CCHD representative to help engage parishes in work to address poverty locally. Poverty is a major stress on family life, and helping parishes address poverty means strengthening families. Supporting my local NFP chapter is another important way of supporting family life.
- Community: Working with CCHD will also help me continue to support and involve myself in local institutions. As part of my work, I’ll be helping share opportunities such as the Creating on the Margins contest and the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, both of which are about encountering and acting in our communities.
- Participation: I am returning from CSMG with a personal goal to participate more in my own city’s public life. I also signed up to receive alerts from Catholics Confront Global Poverty, which will notify me of how I can advocate for specific legislation to support human life and dignity by addressing poverty around the world. After all, if my representatives never hear from me, I have no right to expect them to do what I want.
Finally, I hope to respond to Bishop Eusebio Elizondo’s (and Pope Francis’) invitation to become part of a “globalization of charity.” With what I learned and the action I take, I will help begin reversing the “globalization of indifference” toward the “globalization of charity.”
Andrea Ferguson served as a Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) intern in 2014-2015 and now lives and works in Elyria, OH. She is grateful to now continue her work with CCHD as a volunteer with the Diocese of Cleveland.