Advocating and educating on the federal budget in a parish

The first paragraph of the U.S. bishops’ statement, Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on Parish Social Mission, states: “The parish is where the Church lives…where the gospel is proclaimed…where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes … are the heart of our Church.”

Catholics feel emotionally and literally connected to their parish. They come together as a community to be fed and to hear the Word. The primary setting at which the great majority of Catholics hear the Church’s teachings is at weekend Masses. That’s why homilies about Catholic teaching can have a great impact and directly influence actions by members of that parish community.

When the U.S. bishops sent a letter to Congress on May 19, 2017, expressing concern about the proposed federal budget and stating that a budget is a moral document, we at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, wanted to make sure that parishioners were aware of the letter. We put a short quote from the letter into the bulletin and a copy of the complete letter as an insert in the bulletin. At the end of each Mass, an announcement from the altar invited people to sign a thank you note to the bishops in the gathering space as they leave. We had signature sheets available headed by a quote from the letter: “The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates.”

Many readily signed while others wanted clarification about certain paragraphs in the letter, which led to interesting, in-depth conversations. It was an opportunity for people with varying viewpoints to have a civil discussion, unfortunately too rare these days. Although it was exciting collecting the signatures, the education component was most important. People went home with the bishops’ letter in hand so they could consult it as the budget debate continued.

People have heard the gospel mandate to protect those who have less (e.g. Matthew 25) many times. It resonates with them. They also realize that difficult budget decisions must be made. The letter reminded them that a budget is not just an accounting of money, but a document that has deep moral implications, because how we spend our money shows what we value. A budget should be guided by criteria that respect the life and dignity of the human person and promote policies that enable people to live a truly human life, such as the right to food, shelter, health care, education, etc.

This concern for the physical well-being of others has deep roots in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis in a papal audience (5/16/13) quoted the words of the fourth century bishop, St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”

We at St. Francis of Assisi parish put faith in action in various areas. We have a sister parish in Haiti. We have active ministries with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Pax Christi. We promote the full inclusion of people with developmental differences, offer pregnancy outreach and assistance, help with refugee resettlement, and participate in many other ministries. Collecting signatures to thank the bishops for their leadership on the federal budget brought all these interests under one banner.

In an era when there are so many issues competing for attention, there can be a temptation to turn off the flow of information and retreat. This action, instead, emphasized ‘oneness’ in the Spirit. Our acts of justice and peace do not flow from any particular political philosophy, but from our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

As the bishops said in their closing paragraph, they “stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good.” We stand with them.

Marie Barry is a former Staff Associate in the Office of Social Development in the Archdiocese of Washington. A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, and St. Camillus in Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Barry holds a Master’s degree in Theology from Washington Theological Union.


Going Deeper

Read WeAreSaltAndLight.org’s recent feature story on St. Francis of Assisi’s budget advocacy. Join the U.S. Catholic bishops in taking action to ensure that the well-being of those who are poor and vulnerable is prioritized in federal budget policy.

 

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.

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.

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.