CCHD: A Voice of Hope for Those on the Margins

The USCCB collection to support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in parishes nationwide on the weekend of November 19-20. Please give generously.working-on-the-margins

 

Pope Francis reminds us, “we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it” (2014 Message for Lent, December 26, 2013).

For the past several years I have served as chair of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) subcommittee, where I have seen how CCHD answers this call by giving voice to those on the margins of society experiencing the stark realities of poverty. I want to share with you the work of a few CCHD-supported groups across the country. These are just some of the many programs that speak to the dignity of each person, opening doors and providing hope for a more just and peaceful society.

The California Catholic Conference works with dioceses throughout California to advocate for criminal justice reform and provide spiritual outreach for communities. With a grant from CCHD, the California Catholic Conference expanded its Nightwalk programs in neighborhoods all over California. During Nightwalk—an event led by community leaders, elected officials, and clergy—community members walk the streets of violence-prone neighborhoods together in an effort to promote peace and reconciliation. These walks unify communities and give them a chance to find pathways out of violence together. Just as it is important to unify communities, it is also important to heal the wounds of individuals affected by crime and violence. The California Catholic Conference also sponsors healing circles that bring both victims of crime and families of the incarcerated together for honest dialogue and healing. By training more leaders to facilitate these meetings, the restorative power of God’s compassion and mercy is more widely spread. As Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey said, “It’s really a question of reaching out to everyone with that merciful love of our God.”

 Through a CCHD national strategic grant, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been working across the country to promote the safe, effective entry of citizens returning from incarceration into communities and into the workforce. Through St. Vincent de Paul’s partnership with local Catholic institutions and the business community, as well as through programs like job training, returning citizens are able to find jobs, stability, and a future. In an effort to break the cycle of crime and prison reentry, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul also empowers returning citizens to work for the systemic changes needed to promote criminal justice reform. With these new skills, they have been able to advocate for policies that will support fair hiring practices. Through these programs and partnerships, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is shifting systems to ensure the success of returning citizens.

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter's Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s prison ministries are seen in Rome Nov. 3. Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass for those who work in prison ministry Nov. 6 in St. Peter’s Basilica. (CNS photo/Junno Arocho Esteves)

Often, when juveniles are arrested their record follows them their whole lives, decreasing their chances of finding gainful employment and increasing their chances of reoffending. Together with the Catholic bishops, groups like the Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) in Miami are working to reduce the number of juvenile arrests, giving children a real chance at success. Thanks to a strategic national grant from CCHD, DART works with school and law enforcement officials to decrease the number of school-based arrests and promote alternative, constructive interventions that give children a second chance at their future. Because of their work, school systems are now able to implement restorative justice practices affecting over 65,000 students and resulting in a decrease in suspensions and arrests.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) works to be a voice of hope for those on the margins of society experiencing the realities of living in poverty. CCHD supports programs to heal the wounds of crime and violence, advocate for more just policies, protect God’s creation, and develop strong communities.

The Mercy of Jesus is abiding and always urgent. CCHD sustains the Holy Father’s initiative to bring the joy of the gospel to our brothers and sisters living on the margins of American life. Although we will soon conclude the Year of Mercy, a time of extraordinary grace, we know that our work has just begun.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto is the bishop of Sacramento and the chairman of the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.


CCHD: Dando Voz a Los Que Viven en la Periferia de la Sociedad

El papa Francisco nos recuerda que “los cristianos estamos llamados a mirar las miserias de los hermanos, a tocarlas, a hacernos cargo de ellas y a realizar obras concretas a fin de aliviarlas” (Mensaje para la Cuaresma 2014, 26 de diciembre de 2013).

Durante los últimos años me he desempeñado como presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD), donde he visto cómo la CCHD responde a este llamado dando voz a los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las crudas realidades de la pobreza. Quiero compartir con ustedes el trabajo de algunos grupos apoyados por la CCHD en todo el país. Son sólo algunos de los muchos programas que ponen de manifiesto la dignidad de cada persona, abriendo puertas y brindando esperanza para una sociedad más justa y pacífica.

La Conferencia Católica de California trabaja con diócesis de toda California para abogar por la reforma de la justicia penal y brindar acercamiento espiritual a las comunidades. Con una subvención de la CCHD, la Conferencia Católica de California expandió sus programas Nightwalk en vecindarios de toda California. Durante Nightwalk, un evento dirigido por líderes, funcionarios electos y clérigos de una comunidad, miembros de la comunidad caminan juntos por las calles de vecindarios propensos a la violencia para promover la paz y la reconciliación. Estas caminatas unifican a las comunidades y les dan la oportunidad de encontrar juntas salidas a la violencia. Así como es importante unificar las comunidades, también es importante curar las heridas de las personas afectadas por el delito y la violencia. La Conferencia Católica de California también patrocina círculos de curación que reúnen a víctimas del delito y familias de los encarcelados para sostener un proceso honesto de diálogo y curación. Al capacitar a más líderes para facilitar estas reuniones, el poder restaurador de la compasión y misericordia de Dios se difunde más ampliamente. Como dijo el obispo Richard García, de la diócesis de Monterey, “es realmente una cuestión de acercarse a todos con ese amor misericordioso de nuestro Dios”.

Mediante una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl ha estado trabajando en todo el país para promover la entrada segura y efectiva de los ciudadanos que regresan del encarcelamiento a las comunidades y a la fuerza de trabajo. Mediante la asociación de San Vicente de Paúl con instituciones católicas locales y la comunidad empresarial, así como mediante programas como capacitación laboral, los ciudadanos que regresan pueden encontrar trabajo, estabilidad y un futuro. En un esfuerzo por romper el ciclo de delito y reingreso a prisión, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl también empodera a los ciudadanos que regresan para que trabajen por los cambios sistémicos necesarios para promover la reforma de la justicia penal. Con estas nuevas habilidades, han podido abogar por políticas que apoyen prácticas equitativas de contratación. A través de estos programas y asociaciones, la Sociedad de San Vicente de Paúl está cambiando sistemas para asegurar el éxito de los ciudadanos que regresan.

A menudo, cuando los menores son arrestados sus antecedentes penales los siguen toda su vida, disminuyendo sus posibilidades de encontrar empleo decente y aumentando sus posibilidades de reincidir. Junto con los obispos católicos, grupos como el Direct Action and Research Training Center (DART) de Miami están trabajando para reducir el número de detenciones de menores, dando a los niños una oportunidad real de éxito. Gracias a una subvención estratégica nacional de la CCHD, DART trabaja con funcionarios escolares y de aplicación de la ley para disminuir el número de arrestos dentro de las escuelas y promover intervenciones alternativas y constructivas que den a los niños una segunda oportunidad en su futuro. Debido a su trabajo, los sistemas escolares pueden ahora implementar prácticas de justicia restaurativa que benefician a más de 65,000 estudiantes y que disminuyen suspensiones y arrestos. La Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD) trabaja para ser una voz de esperanza para los que viven en la periferia de la sociedad experimentando las realidades de vivir en la pobreza. La CCHD apoya programas para curar las heridas del delito y la violencia, abogar por políticas más justas, proteger la creación de Dios y desarrollar comunidades fuertes.

La Misericordia de Jesús es permanente y siempre urgente. La CCHD apoya la iniciativa del Santo Padre de llevar la alegría del Evangelio a nuestros hermanos y hermanas que viven en la periferia de la vida estadounidense. Aunque pronto concluiremos el Año de la Misericordia, un tiempo de gracia extraordinaria, sabemos que nuestro trabajo recién ha comenzado.

Bishop Soto

Jaime Soto es el Obispo de Sacramento y el presidente del subcomité de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano (CCHD).

7 Ways to Be a Good Steward of the Harvest

“The earth has yielded its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.”

— Psalm 67:7

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old, and her daughters harvest fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Koubra Mahamat Abakar, 44 years old,  harvests fresh fruit and vegetables in her community garden based in Kournan village, Chad. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

Fall, the season of harvest, is the perfect time to reflect on the Earth’s abundance. Yet, not all people have their share of the abundance God has given us. Approximately 800 million people suffer from hunger worldwide.

On October 16, World Food Day 2016 takes these overlapping issues into account with its theme, “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” As the pope reminds us in Laudato Si’, we must recognize our call to respond to “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” In observance of World Food Day, we invite you to use the following seven steps in your daily life to become a better steward of Earth’s harvests:

  1. Waste less. Did you know that one-third of the food produced for human consumption is either lost during production or wasted by consumers? When we waste food, we’re discarding food that could have fed our hungry brothers and sisters. Food waste also has a grave environmental impact, as it accounts for 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. SaveTheFood.com has tips on how to reduce food waste, including information on proper storage of produce, advice on freezing leftovers and guides for planning meals so you’re sure to eat everything you buy.
  2. Eat simply. It takes 8 times more water to produce 1 pound of beef than to produce 1 pound of soybeans. Eating meat-free, even if only for a couple of days each week, puts less of a strain on Earth’s resources and makes more food and water available for our human family. Check out CRS Rice Bowl’s archive of meatless meal recipes for delicious ways to eat simply!
  3. Support farmers. Buying food locally is not only a great way to support the livelihoods of farmers in your community, but it also reduces your carbon footprint, since your food isn’t being transported great distances to be sold. Find a farmers market near you!
  4. Advocate. U.S. policies impact people worldwide. Let Congress know you care about hunger by lending your voice to support policies that help the most vulnerable.
  5. Donate. CRS is partnering with farmers around the world whose incomes have been jeopardized by the changing environment. These farmers are learning new skills and techniques so that they are still able to generate an income and put food on the table. By supporting CRS, you are supporting these farmers and others who face the effects of natural disaster and hunger.
  6. Learn more. Building awareness about hunger and changing weather patterns is an essential step toward positive change. Take some time to educate yourself and your community on these issues and the many ways that they are connected to each other.
  7. Pray. Prayer helps us to be in right relationship, not only with God and our neighbor, but also with all of creation. Use CRS’ “Live Mercy: Feed the Hungry” small group faith-sharing resource to help your community reflect on this important issue. Or, pray this short prayer before meals to remain mindful of the harvest that we’re called to steward and share.

CRS Helping Hands is a meal-packaging program for Catholic parishes, schools and universities. Learn how to bring CRS Helping Hands to your community!


 

HeadshotRachel Malinowski is a US Operations program officer with Catholic Relief Services, operating out of CRS headquarters in Baltimore.  She works on Helping Hands, among other programs. 

Celebrating a Victory for Racial Justice

cheryl-sommer

Cheryl Sommer

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis notes: “[Business] can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (no.129).  Francis echoes our longstanding Catholic social teaching tradition which urges all of us, including those responsible for creating jobs, to seek the common good and promote human dignity.

In Metro-East St. Louis, people of color found themselves dealing with another longstanding practice, that of often being shut out of good job opportunities including those in the construction trades. Years of racial bias, exclusionary practices of both businesses and unions, as well as other individual actions combined to create an unjust system preventing people of color in the region from having access to employment.

Faith communities that serve low-income populations see the impact of this unjust system firsthand. Reflecting on the congregation’s charitable efforts, one pastor commented, “These people don’t want to be given coats. They want a good paying job to buy their own coats!”

This is where United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM), an interfaith group consisting of Catholic Churches and other congregations which addresses unjust systems in the region, comes in. With funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) and the support of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton, UCM has been training Catholics and non-Catholics alike to change unfair employment systems.

UCM found hope in the announcement of the building of a new Catholic hospital in the area.  Catholic leaders in UCM believed that a Catholic institution would want to use the construction of its new hospital as an opportunity to open the construction trades to people of color. Hospital leadership initially pledged to work with UCM on this. For reasons not completely understood, it didn’t happen. UCM learned that the hospital had a minority hiring goal of just 8% in a region with a minority population near 40%.

Knowing of Bishop Braxton’s strong support of their work through CCHD and of his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States, UCM approached him for help. Bishop Braxton called an immediate meeting with hospital leadership, UCM, and Bruce Holland, the general contractor for construction.  Holland was himself a Catholic. Braxton firmly stated that a Catholic hospital should do better in breaking down systems of exclusion in construction jobs.  He instructed everyone to continue meeting to improve the situation.

Holland, a long-time respected business leader, opened up his office for the meetings, which were tense due to the fact that construction contracts had already been signed.  It seemed evident that there were only going to be about 8% people of color working on the hospital construction. But with Bishop Braxton’s constant encouragement and the willingness of everyone to stay at the table, understanding began to be reached. Holland was moved to offer his help to mentor fledgling non-white businesses in finding success in the construction industry.

On September 1, Holland hosted a reception at his office which was attended by 32 minority business representatives and other people of color who wanted job opportunities.  Relationships were built and minority business owners were given tips for successfully bidding for construction jobs.  Contractors were given specific people who would follow-up with them for ongoing assistance.  Some were given a promise of work very soon.

A system of exclusion from jobs for people of color still exists.  However, because of Catholics who support CCHD, the unwavering encouragement of Bishop Braxton, the tenacity of men and women who want to work, and a Catholic business owner who stepped forward with his expertise and influence to mentor others, a system of inclusion is one step closer.

Cheryl Sommer lives in the Diocese of Belleville and has worked in parish religious education for over 30 years. Cheryl is a long-time volunteer with the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and with United Congregations of Metro-East (UCM).

Going Deeper

Reflect on racial justice with Bishop Edward K. Braxton of the Diocese of Belleville, IL, in his pastoral letter on The Racial Divide in the United States.

Visit the USCCB Racism page to discern how your faith community can work for racial justice.

The Beginning of the End of Poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, (the first Native American Saint and patroness of ecology and the environment). Let us be thankful this day of all life that springs forth from Mother Earth and how the Creator continually provides that we may live. May we desire to imitate St Kateri’s desire to love God above all things.

I had the good fortune of attending the recent groundbreaking ceremony for Thunder Valley Development Corporation. The valley was filled with the heartbeat of a Nation as Lakota drums echoed in harmony and singers sang traditional Lakota songs and each person in attendance turned a shovel of dirt from Mother Earth to commemorate this historic event. The event was hosted at the thirty-nine acre site located north of Sharps Corner in South Dakota. The festivities initiated the birth of a regenerative, self-sustaining and self-sufficient community located on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Ultimately, the site will feature single family and multifamily residences, a youth shelter, childcare facility, and commercial and industrial buildings as well as community gardens and a school that teaches the Lakota language, history, and culture.

Hundreds of people attended the event from across the Nation and the State of South Dakota, but none were more excited and hopeful than the hundreds of Oglala Lakota youth and families that came to be a part of this historic event from across the Pine Ridge Reservation. The Mission of Thunder is “to empower Lakota youth and families to improve the health, culture, and environment of all communities, through healing and the strengthening of cultural identity”.

Once completed, Thunder Valley will serve as a model community throughout Indian Country for other community development initiatives. It reflects a modern community that utilizes green technology, modern energy efficient building practices, and incorporates the Lakota culture and intrinsic values into its original scope of work.

When the houses are completed, there is already a system in place that offers families financial incentives and financing for their first home. The plan was very well thought out. It is not a government program that gives people houses rather it is a program that is designed to assist people into home ownership and help them maintain and take care of their home. You can already witness the pride that people have just talking about the Thunder Valley Community.

Thunder Valley Development Corporation is one of many organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). The organizations selected for funding by CCHD are evaluated locally and nationally before the proposals are submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for final approval. The activities of the organization are being watched by many tribes and community development organizations throughout the United States. The development process and goals of the organization are exemplary and other places will want to replicate many of the facets involved in the development of Thunder Valley.

Nick Tilsen, Executive Director of Thunder Valley, said in his closing remarks; “Today is the beginning of the end of poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation.”

A twelve-minute video was developed to showcase the development of Thunder Valley.  Please check out the video.

Let us pray for the success of the model community at Thunder Valley and the work among the staff and all involved.

Deacon Marlon Leneaugh is Director of Native Ministry for the Diocese of Rapid City South Dakota and serves as the local CCHD representative. He is an enrolled tribal member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribe and has been an ordained deacon for nearly 24 years.


Going Deeper

Pope Francis’ prayer intention for July 2016 is to respect indigenous cultures and traditions. Watch the video and reflect.

Visit the webpage of the USCCB Subcommittee on Native American Affairs to find out more and access relevant resources.  Visit CCHD’s Map to find out how CCHD works to empower persons in low-income communities around the country.

Suffering With Others for the Sake of Truth and Justice

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

Maria Cintorino, Education and Outreach Intern

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in his message to the Mexican Bishops in 2005 that “it is necessary not only to relieve the greatest needs but to go to their roots, proposing measures that will give social, political and economic structures a more equitable and solidaristic configuration.”

A few weeks ago, my fellow CCHD interns and I had the opportunity to visit a parish that has taken these words to heart. Saint Camillus serves a diverse community of around 4,500 each Sunday who come from over 100 countries.

Franciscans staff the parish and have attended to the spiritual and social needs of the community since 1984.

Just last year Saint Camillus parish made the decision to join Action in Montgomery (AIM), an organization that has received funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), and which encourages residents in impoverished or low-income neighborhoods to transform their communities. With AIM’s help, Fr. Jacek Orzechowski and a team of parishioners went door-to-door in the surrounding neighborhood to listen to the community.

They soon learned that residents of Northwest Park Apartments, a large complex near the parish, are experiencing high rent, black mold, infestations of mice and bed bugs, and broken laundry facilities. Despite complaints from the tenants, management has failed to fix any of these problems. Residents reported that if they persistently asked for any of these issues to be resolved, management threatened to discontinue that their leases. Residents fear that they will become homeless.

Many residents of Northwest Park are low-income families. Apartments there cost about $1,800 per month, or $21,600 per year. With the average family living in Northwest Park earning about $25,000 per year, two or three families sometimes share one apartment to afford the cost.

The exploitation of the tenants by the management insults the dignity of the tenant and of us all. Saint John Paul II, quoting Gaudium et Spes in Evangelium Vitae, rightly speaks of subhuman human living conditions as “infamies.” Whoever insults human dignity, he writes, poisons human society. When we neglect to care for our neighbors, or treat them in ways which degrade their inherent dignity bestowed by God, we offend God, in whose image our neighbors are created.

When the sacredness of human life is violated, our proper response should be “to suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself” (Spe Salvi). The ability to suffer with another and to become an advocate for another is part of our Christian duty.

Fr. Jacek and lay leaders in the parish seek to suffer with others for the sake of truth and justice, as they work with their tenant neighbors to improve conditions at Northwest Park Apartments. Their example recalls the words of Saint Paul: “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” Supported by Saint Camillus and other community institutions that have joined the struggle, the tenants are now standing up for their own dignity.

Hearing and seeing the work of Saint Camillus with AIM at the beginning of my internship was a tremendous blessing. Their commitment to defending human dignity is inspiring and exemplifies the complimentary roles of evangelization and social justice. The example of Saint Camillus further fuels my passion to defend and to protect man’s inherent dignity given by God, and to educate others about social justice issues in their own communities. This visit has encouraged me to learn about groups such as AIM who are making a difference in my own community and to further explore how our political, economic, and social structures can be improved in the fight for Truth and Justice.

Maria Cintorino is the education and outreach summer intern at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. She currently teaches at a Catholic school in Northern Virginia.


Go Deeper!

This year, 29 Catholic emerging leaders are serving in dioceses around the country in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) Internship Program.  Applications to the program are accepted annually, beginning in January.

Inspiring Students to Transform Themselves and the World

At Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, everything we do springs forth from a foundation of love–love for each other; love of knowledge, service, and God; and love for the world. For the past twenty years we were blessed to have a colleague, Kevin Duffy, who would often remind us, “We are not educating the girls for college; we are educating them for heaven.”

This articulates a value that we all share: we are not teaching individual subjects alone; we are always teaching, according to our mission, inspiring students “to lead and serve, through lives of purpose that integrate faith, intellect, community, social action, and personal growth.” As we think about how to form our students “in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church,” we are guided by the call of our foundress, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, to “Repay our God love for love, heart for heart.”

Our love and faith are made manifest through the Social Action program, with twelve Wednesdays a year devoted to social justice and service. The program’s mission states, “Through preparation, action, and reflection, Social Action cultivates critical consciousness of issues of justice, inculcates a life-long commitment to service, and develops students’ potential for leadership in building and maintaining just partnerships.”

These are lofty goals for a high school, and yet through our focus on solidarity and seeing God in those we serve, we have crafted a model that works. We introduce students to real world challenges and offer them the space to apply and reflect on what they are learning.

This year’s Social Action theme is “Profiling Peacebuilders.” For our Wednesday on “Peacemaking and Poverty,” we brought in a speaker who had worked directly with Mother Teresa.  Then the students spent most of the day doing service with one of our partner organizations in the greater D.C. area. When they returned to campus, they worked in their student-led reflection groups, engage in an online poverty simulation, in which participants are asked to make the choices of those living in poverty, and reflecting in their journals. Beyond the Social Action day itself, some students participated in a county-wide interfaith coalition advocating for affordable housing and after school programs. This is one example of how through Social Action, students are able to connect Catholic social teaching to what they are experiencing in the classroom, seeing in their communities, and hearing on the news.

Our goal is to inspire and encourage students to transform themselves and the world around them. One student recently described the impact of the program stating, “Social Action forces people to think bigger, to relate to global issues, and encounter injustices that put many of our own daily struggles to shame. Most importantly, Social Action requires that we identify ourselves as agents of change in not only our immediate community, but also the global community.”

Our students are positing in their own way what Maya Angelou once wrote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Through Social Action, we empower students to be their best selves. We are educating them for heaven.

Lauren BrownleeLauren Brownlee is Director of Social Action and U.S. History Teacher at Stone Ridge School of Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland.


Go Deeper!

Get Catholic Social Teaching learning activities, such as the CST Timeline Activity, the Biblical Justice Challenge, and more at WeAreSaltAndLight.org

 

A Catholic call to end payday lending abuses

Jean HillSay the words “payday lender” and stories of friends, family members, or neighbors who sought quick loans to make ends meet and ended up caught in a devastating cycle of debt will begin to flow. Often, these stories begin with someone living paycheck to paycheck and unsure how to make a rent payment, buy food, pay bills, and cover other expenses short term. The tales end with harassing phone calls and court filings for repayment of ridiculously high-interest rate loans, and mounting debts that now include court costs.

As Catholics, we are called not only to empathize with these stories, but to act to protect the poor and vulnerable who find themselves preyed upon by unscrupulous businesses.

Prohibitions against charging outrageous interest on loans go back to Babylonian times. More than one Old Testament prophet condemned usury, along with exploitation of the poor. Yet usury not only persists in our modern economy, it prospers.  In 2010, there were an estimated 19,700 payday loan stores in the U.S. (That number does not include Internet loan sources. A recent federal agency report found at least 332 separate Internet loan providers). Thirty-two states permit loans with triple digit or no caps on the amount of interest the lenders may charge.

The Catholic Catechism insists that “economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit and power; it is ordered first of all to the service of the entire human community.” In theory, payday lenders provide a service to individuals who are often barred from traditional bank loans. In practice, however, these loans are vehicles for exploiting people already in a highly vulnerable financial state.

In a typical payday loan transaction, the customer seeks to make ends meet until the next paycheck, or maybe two. Unlike a traditional loan, however, the individual will not sit down with the lender and determine a reasonable repayment structure based on ability to pay.  The customer will not be able to bargain for a better rate or realistic payment plan.  Instead, the astronomically high interest rates (the national average is above 400% per loan), fees and payment schedule will be based solely on the needs of the lenders.

In short, the loan is all about the profit of the business, rendering the persons seeking help, in the words of Pope Francis, “as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away.”

The social doctrine of our faith compels each of us to be involved in changing such an unjust system. We can raise our Catholic voices to remind payday lenders that their customers are first and foremost human beings, not profit centers. We can insist that our state and federal governments establish reasonable limits on the actions of the lenders to ensure they are not “so powerful as to reduce the [consumer] to subservience.”

Now, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau considers regulations to address some payday lending abuses, is an opportune moment to challenge our congressmen and women to take additional actions against usury to protect the working poor, as our Pope and our doctrine urge us to do.

Jean Hill is Government Liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City, Utah.


Go Deeper!