Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 Going Deeper

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides ongoing support for community groups that work to transform their communities. Visit our map to find out where this work is happening where you live—then get involved!

The need for relief for island nations burdened with debt

Richard Coll, policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

Richard Coll, Policy Advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at USCCB

In Pope Francis’ message for the 2016 celebration of World Peace Day on January 1, he asks that leaders of nations “forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations…” This is an important issue, especially for many island nations.

Highly indebted island nations, located in the Caribbean and the Pacific, are burdened by debt obligations that impede their ability to foster economic development, reduce poverty, and provide adequate social services. These island nations include Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica and St. Kitts, among others. In each of these countries, the Catholic Church, along with ecumenical partners, has been actively engaged in addressing both the causes and the consequences of debt, while championing the human rights and the common good of affected populations.

The human consequences of high levels of indebtedness can be very severe. By requiring a high percentage of their national income to be devoted to the servicing of foreign debt, little is left over for investments in infrastructure, education, or health.

Not only does this put at risk the economic growth and development of the country, but it may also lead to severe deprivations in nutrition and medical care for the affected population. One hears, for example, of nations with such inadequate water systems, due to disrepair, that mothers are forced to offer their children bottled soda rather than risking their children the exposure to the dirty and polluted water they face in the local water systems.

As Pope Francis said when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly in September, “The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.”

Inspired initially by the call of Saint Pope John Paul II for Jubilee 2000, the global Jubilee movement aims to influence worldwide decision makers, including the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, to promote poverty reduction and advance solutions to international financial problems.

USCCB has long stood in solidarity with the Church in the Caribbean, as well as with the work of Jubilee USA, in alleviating the debt burdens of highly indebted nations.

For this reason, my colleague Dr. Stephen Colecchi, Director of the Office of International Justice and Peace, and I attended a recent conference in Grenada hosted by Jubilee. The commitment of the Church in the Caribbean regarding this issue was evidenced by the participation of a number of prominent religious leaders, including Catholic bishops from Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, and St. Kitts, as well as the Apostolic Nuncio to these nations.

There we discussed strategies for effective debt relief, as well as greater level of financial accountability and administrative diligence on the part of the borrowing nations. Participants urged lending institutions to assure that loans are structured in ways that make successful development and repayment possible.

The religious leaders at the conference agreed to establish a formal structure of consultation and advocacy throughout the Caribbean region to address on a systematic basis the concerns of these highly indebted nations.

The efforts of these religious leaders, including Catholic bishops and other Christian leaders from the Caribbean, deserve support, including here in the United States.

USCCB will continue to pursue and support energetically these important endeavors, thereby expressing solidarity and providing support for both debt relief and poverty reduction.

 

Richard Coll is a policy advisor for the Office of International Justice and Peace at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.


Learn more information about the USCCB’s position on debt relief.

 

A few things you need to know about poverty in the U.S. right now

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

As Catholics, we strive for an economy that places people first. Everyone has a right to live in dignity, free from poverty, with decent work at just wages.

Life in America is far from our Catholic understanding of a just economy. Back in September, Archbishop Thomas Wenski cautioned against settling for this ‘new normal’ that leaves too many people and families behind.

The Census Bureau recently confirmed these fears when it released updated poverty and income statistics for 2014. Five years after the Great Recession — after five consecutive years of economic growth and “recovery”– Census reported that:

  • About 15 percent of Americans–close to 47 million people–live in poverty. The overall poverty rate hasn’t been this high for this long in over forty years.
  • 1 in 5 American children live in poverty. Child poverty hasn’t been this persistently high since the early ‘90s.
  • For half of all American households, income is still significantly lower than it was before the recession even began.

When the economic life of our country breaks down like this and fails to provide sufficient work and opportunity, public programs can play a critical role in ensuring human needs are met. Fortunately, Census had good news on this front. Federal antipoverty programs are relatively good at combating the shortcomings of the economy and reducing poverty.

  • Working family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit, taken together, are by far the most effective tools we have for fighting child poverty. Without them, the child poverty rate would be seven whole percentage points higher.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly referred to as food stamps), in addition to fighting hunger, reduces overall poverty by one and a half percentage points, and child poverty by close to three percentage points.
  • 1 in 7 American senior citizens live in poverty. Without Social Security, that number skyrockets to 1 in 2. Yes–fifty percent.

We should make sure these programs are protected by reminding our elected officials that they help millions of people achieve some sense of financial security. Our interactive map at PovertyUSA.org now has updated statistics for your state to inform your advocacy efforts. We can also work for more and better jobs with just wages in our own communities. The county-level view of our map highlights programs across the country doing this critical work with help from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Let’s give Pope Francis the last word. In his address to Congress last month, he implored:

Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

 

Tom Mulloy is a policy advisor in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


 

For an in-depth discussion of the Census report, check out our Poverty in America, 2014 and a Catholic Response webinar and download a copy of the presentation. 

Crack the Whip – How a Child’s Playground Activity Speaks to Our Times

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Msgr. Charles Pope

Many years ago I heard an analogy for what has happened in this country and how the unhealthy patterns of the elite, the powerful, and the wealthy trickled down to the poor, but with far more disastrous effects.

The analogy was the game of “crack the whip,” which some of us who are older remember from the school playground. The “game” involved fifteen or twenty kids making a straight line. Each kid then reached back with one arm and took the hand of the one behind so that a long chain of kids now existed. The kid in the lead then took off running and everyone behind followed, holding arms. Then suddenly the lead kid would take a sharp turn. The kids immediately behind him could make the turn, but for the kids further back it got harder to hold on and make the turn. The kids at the back of the line didn’t stand a chance and went flying off the line, falling to ground with the centripetal force.

This is an analogy for the social and economic ills of the last sixty or more years. For there are some who are at the front of the line who are well positioned to take their thrill rides, engage in social experimentation and indulge greed and excess.

“Crack the Whip” is much in evidence in social/moral ills, such as indulging drugs, alcohol, sex, going in and out of marriages, and glamorizing all sorts of dangerous and deleterious behaviors, as well as in economic ills.

Those at the front of the line can afford the lifestyles that greed demands and can generally afford to pay the higher prices of an overheated economy and a lifestyle that increasingly demands and expects more and more.

“Gentrification” has accelerated, along with all the difficulties of social dislocation. Here in Washington DC the poor are moved to the margins of what many call “Ward 9.” There are only 8 Wards in DC, and so “Ward 9” is a euphemism for being moved to the margins, outside the city that increasingly loses its economic diversity. Once poor and working class neighborhoods now sport housing prices approaching $1 million.

Catholic parishes have used community organizing to save Public Housing and 30% affordable housing in the city, but every new project requires vigilance in a city that is committed in law but poor in enforcing the law.

It’s a classic case of “crack the whip.” Those at the front of the line adjust to sudden shifts in the economy and play the market, but at the back of the line the less privileged go flying off, staggering as they fall and off to the “Ward 9s” of our cities.

As a priest, I am not an economist, and I realize that economic realities are very complex. I am not calling for all sorts of government intervention, etc. But I do know what I see as a priest working among all social classes. I cannot and should not devise all sorts of policy solutions, I leave that to the experts among the laity. But what I can and should do is to remind the folks in the front of the line to remember the folks at the back. “Crack the whip” is fun and exciting at the front of the line, but devastating at the back of the line.

Somewhere we should rediscover the common good and look to our own behavior, wherever we are in the line. I am my brother’s keeper. His welfare ought to be important to me. It’s about more than money; it’s about taking care to build a culture that thinks more of those behind me, and those yet to be born. What of them? How does my life and lifestyle affect them?

 

Rev. Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian parish in Washington, DC.

USCCB Action Alert: Urge Senate to Protect Those in Poverty from Harmful Budget Cuts!

Congress

The Senate is scheduled to take up the Federal Budget Resolution this week. We expect amendments to be offered to cut funding to programs that serve and vulnerable communities. Urge your Senators to oppose amendments to reduce funding for programs that assist poor and vulnerable people at home and abroad.

Three moral criteria ought to guide these budgetary decisions:

  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 least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or living 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.

We support the goal of reducing future unsustainable deficits, and believe our nation has an obligation to address their impact on the health of the economy. A just framework for the federal budget, however, cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons; it requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly. For a more detailed presentation of the bishops’ position on how the Federal Budget should protect people living in poverty see their recent letter to Congress.

Every day in every corner of the world, the Catholic Church–Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, and thousands of schools, hospitals, parishes and NGOs–works to draw a “Circle of Protection” around the “least of these.” The federal government is a vital partner in that work. Instead of cutting programs for the poor, Congress should eliminate sequestration and prioritize programs that help people living in poverty, both in our nation and around the world.

Urge the Senate to protect poor and vulnerable people from harmful budget cutsEmail your Senators and ask them to oppose cuts to domestic and international programs that provide critical help to poor and vulnerable people.

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.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski: Support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Thomas Wenski is the archbishop of Miami and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.

Today, 1 in 7 Americans, including 1 in 5 children in the United States, live in poverty. The scandal of poverty, hunger and other forms of injustice, remind us of our Gospel call to share the good news, and promote human dignity and the common good.

For over forty years, the Catholic bishops of the United States through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), have been working to break the cycle of poverty by empowering people, in their own communities, to be agents of change and engineers of justice.

With continued high levels of poverty and income inequality, talk of statistics and structures can be dehumanizing, numbing and easily dismissed in polite conversation. But poverty and injustice aren’t just for political talking points or academic debate, and as people of faith we can’t avert our gaze to the real struggles and suffering of our brothers and sisters in need. The reality of poverty and injustice is less visible in the news or out of the mouths of our country’s decision makers. But make no mistake, it’s there. Barriers to justice and thriving are found in the unrest in Ferguson Missouri, in the continuing break-up of immigrant families, and in persistent unemployment and non-family-wage jobs. For too many people, poverty means precious time away from family, job insecurity, no retirement, isolation, silent tears and stifled human dignity.

The bishops of the United States know that poverty can’t be simply reduced to graphs and charts, but must be challenged as an affront to people – loved ones, families struggling under the great weight of indifference, our neighbors. The only way out of this cycle of desperation is to work together to find just and lasting humane solutions. The answer to the problem of poverty in America today will not be affluence, but solidarity.

CCHD’s mission is to address the root causes of poverty in America by supporting the passion, creativity and imagination present in our local parishes and communities. In my home state of Florida, CCHD groups are working on disrupting the school to prison pipeline and empowering citizens returning from incarceration to integrate into local communities in healthy and productive ways.

With your support, CCHD brings Catholic social teaching alive by funding initiatives that empower communities. We do this with your help, giving them a voice in their future, providing them the opportunity to participate in society with dignity and giving people a chance to raise a family with confidence and security. Examples of stories of hope abound, and I invite you to take a look.

Pope Francis continues to draw our attention to the reality of exclusion in our society. He reminds us of our responsibility to disrupt it with tenacity, courage and love. As he said recently, “We have to return to making human dignity the center and on that foundation build the alternative societal structures that we need.”

CCHD supports groups working on the margins and building up their local communities. We all know that there is still much work to be done. Join us in making solidarity a reality for our Church, our neighbors, our family members and those who just need a fair shot. Please give generously to this important collection.