Young Leaders Experience the CSMG for the First Time

Have you ever been somewhere or been a part of something where you just kept looking around and thinking to yourself “Is this real?”

Sean Ruane

Sean Ruane, Lewis University

That was my experience at the opening Mass of this year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, D.C.

I was born and raised Catholic, went to a Catholic high school and university, and currently work at a Catholic university. So naturally, I’ve been to my fair share of Masses.

But this opening mass at CSMG was by far the most inspiring, edifying, and enriching mass experience I’ve ever had. That’s not to take anything away from other Masses that I’ve been to, this one was just that good.

The music brought me to my feet time and time again. The readings and petitions were read in several different languages and were read beautifully and with conviction. And, the community of people from different cities, states, and countries, all “gathered” (pun intended) on behalf of a shared passion for faith-inspired social justice work, was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been a part of. It was awe-inspiring.

I was fortunate enough to be present for this event because of my role as Coordinator of Social Justice Education at Lewis University. I work in University Ministry, where I get to work with students who, inspired by their faith, have answered the call to work for peace and justice.

This year was my first time at CSMG and I was blessed to accompany three outstanding sophomores from Lewis University – Lauren, Julio, and Savannah. Julio has a particular passion and interest in peace-building and conflict resolution in war-torn countries, and Savannah and Lauren are both incredibly passionate about criminal justice and sentencing reform.

It was a tremendous honor for me to walk with them throughout this experience, as they had the opportunity to hear a number of high profile keynote speakers, participate in small group discussions, be a witness to two amazing masses, and talk with legislators on Capitol Hill about issues such as immigration and mass incarceration. They were also blessed with the chance to meet up and interact with over 100 other college students from around the country, as part of the emerging Young Leaders Initiative (YLI).

After participating in CSMG and YLI, and returning back home to Lewis University, Savannah, Lauren, and Julio were kind enough to provide me with some feedback about their CSMG experience. I will leave you with some of their own words about this incredible experience:

“The visit to Capitol Hill allowed me to truly express my passion for social issues as well as apply all of the knowledge I had learned from the workshops. It was an amazing feeling to be able to voice my opinion on something I’m so passionate about to a person who is capable of making a difference. It assured me that my ideas mattered and that justice is more tangible in this country than many believe.”- Lauren

I was blessed enough to be a part of an event so powerful that I can say that I wholesomely felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.” – Julio

 “CSMG was truly an unforgettable experience. I attended the most culturally diverse, beautiful Mass of my life. The gathering allowed Julio, Lauren, and I to network with other college students across the nation and discuss things we can improve or introduce to our campuses… From this gathering, I have realized that it is our duty to change the injustices we see in the world.” – Savannah

 

Sean Ruane is a University Minister and Coordinator of Social Justice Education at Lewis University.


Join us at Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on January 23-26, 2016! We invite college and universities to participate in the Gathering through the Young Leaders Initiative. 

How We Build Young Leaders

Mariann Hughes photoPolitics can be discouraging work. Long hours are punctuated by anxious moments as bills wend their way through committee hearings, debates and floor votes. Sometimes months of work crash to the floor in mere seconds.

But working for the Church gives politics a deeper meaning. Our work defends the vulnerable, the sick, the poor, the unborn, the elderly and the imprisoned. And more often than not, our comrades-in-arms are there to pick us up to fight another day.

Two years ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approached our staff at the Maryland Catholic Conference with an idea for a network of Maryland college students. These liaisons would receive valuable training and skills-building, then work to involve their fellow students in faith-based advocacy by disseminating resources, holding events, and sharing our work at their respective universities across the state. They would also attend the USCCB’s annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in February 2015 with 500+ leaders from across the nation, including 100 participants in the Young Leaders Initiative. The costs of their training and stipends were generously funded with a grant from the Catholic Youth Foundation USA.

As with any pilot program, it took time and trial-and-error to craft parameters and goals, but we found three students who were willing to be our guinea pigs! (Thelma, from Mount St. Mary’s; Alisa, from the University of Maryland; and Patricia, from Maryland Institute College of Art.)

Working with these young women during the 2014-15 school year was a joy. They were enthusiastic about the work of the Church in the public square. Whether they were planning a voter registration drive, engaging speakers to talk to the student body, or volunteering their time with charitable organizations, the young women showed passion for their faith and an eagerness for more projects. They were poised, confident and cheerful.

During the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington DC, I watched these young women hold animated conversations with their peers. I saw them chatting excitedly after workshops with leaders in the Church. I saw their heads bowed in prayer and their hands raised in praise. They shared their career goals with me. None of these talented, ambitious students wanted to be rich or famous. They wanted to help people and share their love of Christ with the world.

As I continue to grow and develop our relationships with an increasing network of young adult Catholics, I’m humbled that no matter the stage in life, we all bring something to the table. Those older than I offer wisdom, experience, prudence. Those younger offer hope, zeal, energy. Working with these students has given me a sense of Church and of community – all backgrounds, ages and walks of life coming together to show their love for Christ in a real and tangible way. All of sudden, this doesn’t feel like a battle anymore. It feels like family.

Mariann Hughes is the associate director of advocacy and outreach at the Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for the Church’s public policy positions before the Maryland General Assembly and other civil officials.

CSMG: Young Leaders Initiative Empowered Me

Jackie Sardina

Jackie Sardina

The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering boasted a new record for campus involvement this year: 104 students from 30 universities across the nation attended CSMG 2015. I was one of them!

As a student at The Catholic University of America, I attended CSMG as a young leader, and I was blown away by the experience. Hundreds of Catholic social justice leaders gathered together, united in one faith and in the goal of bringing the peace and justice of Christ to our nation. Throughout the conference, I was able to network with Catholic diocesan peace and justice directors, community organizers, and representatives from all kinds of faith-based organizations working for justice. I heard inspiring stories of social justice work around the country and I formed connections I hope to continue beyond the weekend. The keynote presentations, legislative briefings, and break-out sessions all taught me much about a faith-filled approach to difficult issues and about the U.S. bishops’ policy stances on issues affecting people in poverty.

It was encouraging and empowering to see what other leaders were doing on their college campuses. The Young Leaders Initiative enabled students like me to share ideas as well as create action plans to implement what we learned at CSMG when we get back to campus. After a great networking luncheon, we celebrated with an ice cream social and got to know each other as students who share the same passion. We also joined other CSMG participants in going up to Capitol Hill to visit lawmakers. We advocated in support of legislation to enable communities to overcome poverty and injustice, nationally and globally.

I am so excited and thankful for all of the good work these passionate leaders will continue to do on their campuses and in their communities. The theme of this year’s CSMG was “To Go Forth: Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World.” I hope students at colleges and universities around the country will start planning to be part of next year’s “encounter.” The 2016 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering will take place January 23-26. It’s an event you won’t want to miss!

Jackie Sardina is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and an intern with the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

CSMG: Archbishop Kurtz Blesses Advocates Going Forth to Congress

school

USCCB President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz celebrated mass this morning with participants of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, DC.

Since Sunday, over 500 Catholics leaders from communities, parishes, initiatives supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development have gathered in Washington, DC at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering to pray, study and celebrate the Eucharist together. The intense experience of discipleship, fraternity and encuentro climaxes today, when these same leaders go to Capitol Hill to visit legislators and share a vision of society grounded in justice, fairness, respect for the human person and solidarity.

At their concluding Mass this morning, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, sent these advocates forth with the blessing of the Church. Recalling the words of Pope Francis to him during his recent meeting with the pope, he said, “Our faith in Jesus Christ is more powerful than the throwaway society that threatens to overtake us,” and he encouraged participants “to have the courage to stand for their convictions.” Before the final blessing, he told the advocates, “The farther you go to seek the forgotten, the closer you’ll be to the heart of Christ.”

CSMG participants go to Congress standing in unity with the bishops of the United States in their call for a just society. They also visit their lawmakers firm in their solidarity with those across the country and around the world experiencing poverty and injustice.

These are the top line messages that they will bring to Congress:

  • Protect poor people at home and abroad in the federal budget.
  • Reduce unnecessary military spending.
  • Support U.S. leadership for a two-state solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine and do not punish Palestinians by cutting aid essential to strengthening peace there.
  • Oppose efforts to roll back the President’s executive actions protecting immigrants and their families. Instead, pass all the elements of comprehensive immigration reform and address the root causes of migration.

Check out the full Message to Congress here. Follow today’s events on twitter with the hashtag #togoforth.

CSMG: The Globalization of Solidarity

“To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity.” Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium #180)

Untitled

Dylan Corbett, USCCB

The 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering is in full swing. Hundreds of leaders in the Catholic community from across the country and as far away as Cameroon, Australia, Canada and Vatican City, have come together for this annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The climax of the gathering will take place when these leaders bring an agenda driven by justice, truth and the common good to lawmakers in Congress this coming Tuesday. These latest blog entries have attempted to throw into relief the different issues that CSMG participants are praying about and discerning in the light of Catholic social doctrine. This one will briefly explore spending priorities in the federal budget.

Last evening, Father Daniel Groody, CSC, from the University of Notre Dame, laid bare for CSMG participants what he considers the heart of Catholicism. According to Fr. Groody, “Catholicism is about bringing fractured humanity back into unity and communion.” It’s humbling to consider that Christ’s work of building solidarity is taking place mysteriously even now, in hearts, families, charitable works, in the Church’s work of prophetic announcement of the Kingdom of God and in the prophetic denouncement of injustice and fractures to the community of humankind.

Injustice, division and poverty are scandalous contradictions to the Kingdom. Our response to each of these defines us as believers. This is no less true when considering our efforts as a nation to address the fractures in our own commonweal.

The bishops of the United States have identified significant imbalances in the allocation of our nation’s resources to promote our common good, particularly in the federal budget. We are all familiar with the pervasive economic imbalances that continue to generate poverty, unemployment and underemployment. We’re also familiar with the need to resolve the problem of our federal debt. But because of the politically motivated rhetoric that often distorts perceptions of federal funding priorities, it’s not as commonly known that over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to defense spending.

This real imbalance comes at the expense of programs at home and abroad intended to address poverty and create opportunity. Not only does our nation’s discretionary budget devote disproportionate resources to the military, but the United States spends disproportionately relative to other countries. Indeed, the U.S. spends more on military and defense than the next 10 highest countries combined, most of those being U.S. allies. Investment in nuclear weapons modernization programs, currently being pursued by President Obama, undercuts the long-term goal of working for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The needs of national security cannot be denied; however, one ought not pit national security against the common good and the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, recent events around the world have given the lie to the belief that peace can be achieved by military force alone. Even national security is only at the service of the common good. Nuclear weapons modernization is but an example of the unnecessary spending that undermines both national security and human security.

When the bishops speak out on these and similar issues, it is commonly objected that they lack the necessary competence on matters of economy and federal spending. One ought to consider the consistency over the decades with which the bishops have raised these issues and the degree to which their words have been prophetic. Pope Francis’ words are also instructive here:

The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being. It is no longer possible to claim that religion should be restricted to the private sphere and that it exists only to prepare souls for heaven.

The serious immediate and long-term challenges facing our national economy demand a just and equitable balance of needs and resources. These choices have real consequences on people’s lives.

Dylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder, A Peace Economy: Rebalancing Spending Priorities.

CSMG: The Path of Peace Must Be Taken Up Anew

Bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

US bishops gather at the Separation Wall in Jerusalem.

Today marks the first day of the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Catholic leaders from across the country are spending the day building community, studying Catholic social teaching and preparing to engage legislators on issues important to their faith. One of the international issues these leaders will bring to Congressional lawmakers is their support for a just peace in Palestine and Israel and continued aid for the Palestinian people.

In the past year US led peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel stalled, outbreaks of violence spawned yet another terribly destructive round of fighting between Hamas and the Israeli military and the humanitarian situation throughout the Palestinian Territories deteriorated, especially in Gaza. This was another startling reminder that the status quo is not sustainable, that there is no military solution to this conflict, and that courageous leadership is needed now more than ever. CSMG participants will raise their voices to support US leadership for peace and a two-state solution to the conflict in the Holy Land. They will echo the longstanding position of the Church that lasting peace requires the emergence of a viable and independent Palestinian state living alongside a recognized and secure Israel. A two-state solution will enhance Israeli security, preserve Israel as a Jewish majority democratic state, give Palestinians the dignity of their own state, allow access to the Holy Sites of all three faiths and promote economic development. It will also contribute to stability in the region and undermine extremists who exploit the conflict.

Both parties to the conflict have taken actions the other side and much of the international community deem inflammatory, most notably Israeli settlement expansion and Hamas’ rocket attacks. Most recently, the Palestinian Authority joined the International Criminal Court, a move that upset the Government of Israel and that the United States Government called counterproductive. In an effort to punish the Palestinian Authority for this action, some Members of Congress have sought to terminate the roughly $400 million in annual aid to the Palestinian people. If such legislation were to pass, it would have devastating humanitarian consequences and could undermine the Palestinian Authority’s ability to build capacity for a Palestinian State and continue its security coordination with Israel. Catholic leaders will bring these concerns to Congress during CSMG by advocating to preserve FY 2015 assistance to the Palestinian people in the federal budget, assistance that is in the best interest of Israelis, Palestinians and all who hope for peace in the Holy Land.

During previous Catholic Social Ministry Gatherings, leaders brought a similar message to Congress: work for peace in the Holy Land. While some may be discouraged by the deterioration of the negotiations in the past year, as Catholics we are people of hope. Peace is possible. During his pilgrimage to the Holy Land this past summer, Pope Francis reminded us, “The path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace must constantly be taken up anew, courageously and tirelessly.” Through their advocacy, CSMG participants will demonstrate that our Church remains committed to the important message of peace and is ready to be a peacemaker in our world.

To learn more about the situation in the Holy Land and the work of USCCB to promote peace, check out this backgrounder.
Julie Bodnar

Julie Bodnar is an intern at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Promoting the Social Conditions Necessary for the Fulfillment of All

Catholic on the Hill

Catholics from around the country advocate on Capitol Hill as part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

“To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.”
Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate #7

Starting tomorrow, over 500 Catholic leaders from around the country will begin their work to “take effective steps to secure” the good and well-being of those who continue to struggle with poverty, hunger, homelessness and other needs in our country. Participants in the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering will hear about, reflect on and meet with their elected officials and discuss how domestic federal policy must work to protect and assist “the least of these.”

While there are indications there have been some modest improvements in the economy, it is very clear that not all are sharing in this development. Too many Americans still struggle, have fallen out of, or simply do not count as, the middle class anymore. The need remains to protect and strengthen the social safety-net to ensure the basic needs of millions of poor and vulnerable people across the country.

Recent data illustrates the seriousness of the continuing problem:

  • Over 14 percent of Americans (45 million) live in poverty;
  • In 2013, 49 million people in the U.S. including 16 million children, lived in food-insecure households;
  • Housing is a human right yet, only 1 in 4 that need housing assistance receives it.

Protect poor people in the Federal Budget
Since our economy is simply not creating enough decent jobs with just-family wages, it is imperative that Congress craft a budget that prioritizes poor and vulnerable people and that follows a just set of moral criteria:

  1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity;
  2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects the lives and dignity of the “least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty, should come first;
  3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

This year, participants in the conference will highlight the following domestic policy priorities to address the unmet needs of vulnerable people:

  • Protect programs that alleviate hunger and improve nutrition. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC); School and Summer Lunches; and other food assistance programs must be protected to eliminate the scandal of hunger;
  • Meet the unmet housing need. Adequately fund homelessness, affordable housing, and community development programs;
  • Ensure access to life-affirming health care; and,
  • Support sufficient decent job creation. Support work by protecting workforce development programs.

Pope Francis speaks often about a “throw away culture” and an “economy that kills.” He rightfully calls into question a socio-economic system that “is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes” (Evangelii Gaudium #59).

It is naïve to think that state-sponsored programs alone are a panacea to poverty, hunger and economic injustice. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have suggested as such. Nonetheless, government, the public authority, has an indispensable role to promote the common good. Its very legitimacy depends on this.

For the participants in the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, it is the call of the Gospel and the virtue of perseverance that brings them back to the offices of their elected officials, to ensure that as a nation we take effective steps to secure the good of our brothers and sisters.
Granado headshot

Anthony J. Granado is a policy advisor at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder on federal domestic anti-poverty programs.

CSMG: Bishops Not Backing Down on Immigration

Ralph McCloud of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development visits the US-Mexico border.

Ralph McCloud of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development visits the US-Mexico border.

This year’s Catholic Social Ministry Gathering takes place fifty years after the promulgation of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. That document spoke of the the Church’s need to “recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics” and to “scrutinize the signs of the times… interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.”

CSMG brings together bishops, clergy and religious and lay leaders in the Church and society to do just that. The economy and poverty, war and peace, religious freedom, the Church’s relation to society and the individual Catholic’s role in community life are all themes for prayer, discernment and studied action.

Immigration is a central theme for people of faith. The bishops have made clear for decades that the biblical command to “love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19) has consequences for how we ought to understand immigration in the United States. Those who come to CSMG next week will go to Congress to stand with the bishops in their call for our nation to respect the humanity of the migrant.

What will they ask?

  • Congress should enact laws that will offer those persons without documents the opportunity to earn a path to citizenship.
  • More than lip service should be paid to the bedrock importance of the family; the contribution of immigrant families should be recognized and Congress should pull back from proposals to reduce family-based immigration visas.
  • Some proposals would diminish safeguards for low-skilled immigrant laborers, including those who harvest the food placed daily on American dining room tables. Those workers, too, deserve appropriate protections and options to earn citizenship.
  • Efforts to roll back the President’s recent executive actions to protect certain categories of immigrants should be opposed.

The bishops have noted to the House of Representatives that rolling back executive action would be devastating for millions of hard working immigrants and that the threat of deportation would unnecessarily threaten family unity. Congress should instead focus on passing all the elements of comprehensive immigration reform.

Of course, migration is a complex phenomenon, and more and more people around the world are migrating, in large part due to economic inequality between nations, conflict and even climate change. Pope Francis has pointed out that “solidarity with migrants and refugees must be accompanied by the courage and creativity necessary to develop, on a world-wide level, a more just and equitable financial and economic order, as well as an increasing commitment to peace, the indispensable condition for all authentic progress.” For that reason, participants will also stand with the bishops of the United States in calling for efforts to address the root causes of migration, including just trade policies that respect people’s right not to migrate and for efforts that address the economic imbalances and violence, especially in Latin America, that compel them to come to the United States in the first place.

While questions of borders, sovereignty, legality and amnesty are important and unavoidable, the Christian views the question of migration differently. Indeed, in the death of Jesus on the Cross, all of us—immigrant and non-immigrant—are debtors and beneficiaries of the greatest amnesty of all. As Pope Francis has said, “Jesus Christ, who assumed human nature in order to redeem it, loving the Father unto death on the Cross, has through his resurrection made of us a new humanity, in full communion with the will of God, with his plan, which includes the full realization of our vocation to fraternity.”

UntitledDylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Check out the USCCB backgrounder on the root causes of migration.

The Catholic Church Sends a Message to Congress

CSMG logo 2015

Beginning this weekend, February 7-10, over 500 Catholic leaders from across the country, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, will be in Washington DC for the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the collaboration of 16 national Catholic organizations, sponsors this annual event, which explores contemporary Catholic social engagement and the current political landscape. The gathering’s theme this year, To Go Forth: Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World, takes its inspiration from Pope Francis and the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes.

Together, leaders and rising leaders in the Church will prayerfully consider Catholic social teaching and discern its implications for faith and public life today. Bishops, clergy and religious, lay leaders in the field of social justice, university students and those involved in the work of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will advocate with lawmakers on Capitol Hill on issues of vital consequence for poor and at-risk communities in the United States and around the world.

The message participants will bring to Congress will prioritize empowerment for those families, communities and individuals pushed to the margins and living in desperate situations. Their message will strongly endorse protecting programs in the federal budget that empower communities to overcome poverty and that aid those around the world affected by disaster and violent conflict, as well an overdue reduction in unnecessary military spending. To relieve the pressure on those experiencing the effects of poverty and a mixed economic recovery, participants will ask legislators to maintain and strengthen anti-poverty programs like SNAP, child nutrition programs, Medicare and workforce development programs. Participants will also advocate for the need to protect international assistance programs, including assistance to the Palestinian people in the face of Congressional efforts to punish Palestinians for joining the International Criminal Court. Advocates will also emphasize support for US leadership for peace in Israel and Palestine and a 2-state solution to the conflict there. On immigration reform, advocates will oppose efforts to roll back executive action and support legislation that advances all the elements of comprehensive immigration reform.

In the coming days, this blog will take a closer look at the different positions that advocates will take from the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering to lawmakers in Congress. Stay tuned, and if you are unable to join us in Washington DC, keep up with CSMG here and on Twitter @togoforth.

UntitledDylan Corbett is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Join the USCCB Justice, Peace & Human Development Advocacy Network.

Catholics Committed to the Global Human Family

Julie Bodnar

Julie Bodnar

Many Americans believe the United States spends a significant portion of its budget on foreign aid. One frequently cited survey reports that Americans believe this number to be as high as 25%. In reality, the United States spends less than 1% of its budget on foreign aid. This number is already startlingly low, but with every round of budget negotiations it risks further cuts.

The world’s needs are great. Too many families know the reality of having their lives upended by war, famine, natural disasters and other crises. Even today, the number of people experiencing poverty is still too high, especially in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. One in seven people experience extreme poverty, living on less than $1.25 per day. Over 50 million people were forcibly displaced in 2013, largely due to conflict and human rights violations. Given the violence in Iraq, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan – to name just a few of the countries experiencing conflict – the data for 2014 may be even more alarming. The 2014 Ebola outbreak was the largest in history and could have been mitigated if affected countries had stronger health systems in place.

There is good news. International poverty-focused development and humanitarian aid make a real difference. Thanks to the global community’s commitment to addressing these development challenges, great progress has been made in recent years. For example, in just 15 years, extreme poverty in the world has been cut in half. Meanwhile, proven partners like Catholic Relief Services work every day to improve the lives of people across the world in very real ways. In Syria’s neighboring countries, CRS helps refugees survive the winter by providing medical assistance, cash transfers, food, blankets, heaters and other winter essentials. They’re working to create schools and child-friendly spaces where kids can begin to heal from the trauma they’ve experienced.

Aid is especially impactful when used for programs that involve the local community in planning and implementation. Community-based programming builds the capacity of local communities and promotes long-term sustainability, allowing even the small amount the budget the U.S. spends on aid to go a long way.

As Catholics, global development is more than just a practical matter of budgets and program efficiencies. It is rooted in our faith. All people are created in the likeness and image of God. We must work to preserve and strengthen poverty-focused aid in order to ensure that everyone is able to live in a way that promotes their human dignity. As Pope Francis tells us, accepting poverty in today’s world, a world of great wealth, is a scandal.

“Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry. We all have to think if we can become a little poorer, all of us have to do this” (June 7, 2013).

As January, USCCB Poverty Awareness Month, winds down, our commitment to strengthening poverty-focused aid remains strong. Next month, hundreds of Catholic leaders will gather in our nation’s capital for the 2015 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Living out this year’s theme, To Go Forth: Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World, these leaders will meet with their elected officials to advocate for policies that bring about a more just world. One of the key messages Catholics will bring to Capitol Hill this year is the need to strengthen funding for poverty-focused international development and humanitarian programs that save lives, reduce crushing poverty and build peace.

Julie Bodnar is an intern at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.