Laudato Si’ at Ascension: Promoting Care for Creation

sun-hat-957895_1920Pope Francis’ visionary ecological encyclical, written to the people of the world, energized this environmental and peace and justice activist in a dynamic way. He reminds us that care for the earth and people who are poor is our duty, rooted in solidly Catholic social teaching.  Pope Francis and Laudato Si’ inspired me so much that I came back to my parish to support and lead new environmental efforts.

It’s a lot of time and work, yet there’s no work more important for the planet. Now we have a visionary encyclical to back us up!  At Ascension Parish in Oak Park, Illinois, we formed the Honoring Our Mother Earth (HOME) green team as an outgrowth of our long-standing and active Peace and Justice ministry. HOME’s vision and actions are a perfect way to care for Creation, our common home.

We scattered seeds to see what would take root and blossom. Here are some of the strategies our 27-member HOME team engaged in: Continue reading

Corpus Christi: The Eucharist Opens Our Eyes to the Body of Christ

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem.

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem.

When I was seven years old, I asked if I could become a Catholic. What captured my heart and imagination at such a young age was the Eucharist; the idea that the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ was physically present here and now in our midst. The celebration of Corpus Christi has held the devotion of the faithful since the feast was instituted in our liturgical calendar in the 13th century. Given that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our life, this should be no surprise.  However, the power of this feast to motivate us toward transforming our world is often hidden amidst the ritual of this devotion. This celebration holds personal significance for me not only as a Norbertine priest, but as a social worker as well.

Our tradition’s understanding of the Body of Christ is centered in our sacramental encounter, but it does not stop there. We speak of the mystical Body of Christ as the Church, as the assembly of baptized believers. We also see the presence of Christ clearly defined in our tradition as in those experiencing poverty, oppression, suffering, and marginalization. We hear this from Christ himself in Matthew 25: “whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.” This sense of the presence of Christ has also been strongly emphasized by saints and mystics over the centuries, from John Chrysostom to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Our sacramental experience of the Body and Blood of Christ is just the beginning. It becomes the window that moves our hearts and minds to yearn more deeply to know that same Christ who not only gave himself for us, but desires to be taken in by us so that we may come to share most deeply in Him. The pageantry, ritual, and exaltation of the presence of the Holy that we see in our liturgies, processions, and adoration surrounding this feast are what express for us the honor and dignity to be shown toward God’s tangible presence in our midst.  This should open our eyes to then want to seek that presence in all of life—in the community we know to be Christ’s mystical Body, and in those who seem to be at the peripheries.

When I find myself struggling to respond with compassion, patience, or mercy in my ministries, I come back to the Blessed Sacrament. I remind myself of what it is to encounter our Risen Lord in a clear and knowable way. From there I can go forth, and remember that that is the same Lord I am encountering in my sisters and brothers in Christ, and in those I serve—be it formally as clients in an agency, or simply those in need who cross my path.

More so than my individual interactions, to encounter the profound unity that Christ calls us to as members of his Body, inspires me to see injustices, discrimination, and oppression not just as social ills but as violence against the will of God. If we wish to live the dignity of the sacrament we celebrate so fervently, then we must struggle to overcome the divisions and fractures that exist within God’s family.

When we come to know the power and majesty of Christ in the Sacrament, we come to see more clearly the imperative to uphold that same dignity present to us through those who suffer. When we can come to respond well to one another in our needs, struggles, and injustices, we come to see more clearly the Body of Christ who we are formed to be through Jesus’ self-gift to us on the altar.

Rev. Graham Golden, O. Praem. is a member of the Norbertine Community of Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey in Albuquerque New Mexico. He currently serves as the Coordinator of Program Development, Evaluation, and Research for the Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.


Go Deeper!

Reflect further on Christ’s presence in the Church community, his body with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ series on Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples.

 

 

Turning Passion into Progress

Members of the Essex Community Organization, an MCAN affiliate in the North Shore of MA, join together at Zion Baptist Church in Lynn at a meeting with the Lynn Police Department Chief, and participate in a liturgy of justice to ground their work in prayer.

Members of the Essex Community Organization, an MCAN affiliate in the North Shore of MA, join together at Zion Baptist Church in Lynn at a meeting with the Lynn Police Department Chief, and participate in a liturgy of justice to ground their work in prayer.

“They are passionate in everything they do. They are passionate in their concern for the underdog. They are passionate about leveling the playing field. They are passionate about helping people who have no voice to find a voice.”

When I heard this description of the people of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN), it took on the cadence of a litany. It was a litany of what it takes to grow a handful of local community groups into a successful, well-respected statewide organization that has earned its place at the table. MCAN has received Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) grants from both local and the national offices throughout their existence to help translate the passion of its organizers and members into effective, lasting progress for low-income people throughout Massachusetts.

MCAN members gather with coalition partners at Raise Up Massachusetts outside the Massachusetts State House to turn in a record-high number of petition signatures to raise the minimum wage.

MCAN members gather with coalition partners at Raise Up Massachusetts outside the Massachusetts State House to turn in a record-high number of petition signatures to raise the minimum wage.

MCAN has strong roots in Catholic parishes and has been a resonant voice for immigrants and low-wage workers. Each of the member organizations has an impressive decades-long record of accomplishment with local grassroots issues. But when they came together, they created energy, momentum, and passion. With months of persistent, patient door-to-door visits and community meetings, MCAN and the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition mobilized support in the state legislature and among voters for two measures that affect more than one million low-income people: an increase in the minimum wage and employer-provided earned sick time.

In recognition of their enthusiasm and unflagging work in support of and in solidarity with oppressed people, MCAN was presented the Sr. Margaret Cafferty Development of People Award. I assure you we were delighted to recognize a longtime funded group that is passionate about holding elected officials accountable and creating solutions to the underlying causes of poverty.

MCAN engages younger generations in the importance of community organizing and voting. These four children of leaders in Brockton helped canvass for the 2014 Earned Sick Time Ballot Initiative in Massachusetts.

MCAN engages younger generations in the importance of community organizing and voting. These four children of leaders in Brockton helped canvass for the 2014 Earned Sick Time Ballot Initiative in Massachusetts.

MCAN is not resting on its laurels. It continues its work to reform the justice system and is already gearing up to support a 2018 constitutional initiative that will fund education and transportation with a new tax on people who make more than $1 million a year.

“They are passionate about everything they do.” What a terrific accolade!

Throughout the long, gray winter and this joyful Easter season, I thought about the myriad people who step out of their natural comfort zones to work for justice. I have been blessed to meet many people who work for CCHD-funded organizations and consistently put their families and others before themselves as they strive to help the entire community move beyond poverty. Thank you to all of the supporters of CCHD who help us offer training, support, and encouragement to groups like MCAN. I am grateful.

 

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.


Learn more about MCAN’s organizing work and the Sr. Margaret Cafferty Development of People’s Award in the latest edition of the CCHD quarterly newsletter Helping People Help Themselves.

See other CCHD groups’ Stories of Hope on PovertyUSA.

Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: The Eucharist Calls Our Families to Transform the World

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

Michael Jordan Laskey, Life & Justice Ministries, Diocese of Camden, NJ

My wife Genevieve used to work at an urban retreat and social justice education center in a poor city, which is in the former convent on the property of a Catholic parish. There were a couple of homeless guys from the neighborhood who would occasionally stop by the center for something to eat. Because youth were often in the building, the center’s security policy didn’t allow the men to come in, but staff members would always prepare a “to go” bag with a sandwich or two and anything else that was in the kitchen.

There was a daily Mass in the chapel across the parking lot from the center, and Genevieve would go before work from time to time. One of the men who came for food most often – I’ll call him Frank – would sometimes be at Mass, too. He would join in the prayer and receive communion with the rest of the assembly.

Genevieve was struck by the fact that while Frank was understandably not allowed to enter the center, he was more than welcome in the church. He was part of the one human family gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic feast; he didn’t have to take this meal to go.

Mass, said the scholar Aidan Kavanagh, is doing the world the way it’s meant to be done. At the end of each liturgical celebration, we are sent forth to make the world more closely resemble the unity that we practice in the sanctuary, where all welcomed to the table and can receive what they need.

Pope Francis makes this connection between the Eucharist and our call to create a more just world in paragraphs 185 and 186 in his brand new apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”).

“The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” he writes. “When those who receive it turn a blind eye to the poor and suffering, or consent to various forms of division, contempt and inequality, the Eucharist is received unworthily. On the other hand, families who are properly disposed and receive the Eucharist regularly, reinforce their desire for fraternity, their social consciousness and their commitment to those in need.”

Why does Pope Francis talk about the connection between the Eucharist and working for a more just world in a document about the family?

The Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the celebration of Christ’s self-giving love and sacrifice for us, his brothers and sisters. We are meant to emulate this Eucharistic, others-centered love in our family lives – directed toward our own blood relatives, surely, but also reaching outward to all of God’s children, especially those who are hurting.

Formed by this Eucharistic love, our families can become what Pope Francis calls in the document “vital cell[s] for transforming the world.” Our families are meant to be schools of mercy, where compassion and care for the poor are learned and practiced. I think of my friend Sean, who has devoted his life to Catholic social justice ministry. When he was growing up, his family would help serve a meal at a soup kitchen every single Christmas. Sean doesn’t remember this tradition seeming strange or unusual. “It was just something we did,” he says. He learned mercy in his family and it had a profound impact on the person he has become.

How might the self-giving love we celebrate in the Eucharist be calling your family to work for justice together? What a privileged opportunity we have to respond to the Holy Father’s call!

Michael Jordan Laskey is director of Life & Justice Ministries and vice chancellor for the City of Camden for the Diocese of Camden, NJ. 


Go Deeper!

Read the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia online at the Vatican’s website or order copies through USCCB Publishing.

Learn more about how our faith inspires us to respond as disciples in the world today by watching this short video on WeAreSaltandLight.org.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”

Few Words and Many Deeds

Headshot of Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., D.Min.

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C.

Pope Francis is calling all to be missionary disciples, to go out and draw others into relationship with Jesus Christ, not simply by words, but by deeds. During Lent, particularly on Fridays, he is witnessing to all how simple it is to do by making informal visits to the poor and the marginalized – a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a drug rehab center. Simple, but very clear actions that show how to live the Works of Mercy in everyday life.

His actions remind me of a member of my religious community who worked in the city streets caring for the poor, but at the same time helping others to recognize ways in which they could work together to be more merciful, charitable, and just. One day this community member met a woman who was physically challenged and nearly homeless. She thought that she was not capable of doing anything worthwhile. He invited her to collaborate with him and together with others – lay people, those in consecrated life, and clergy – they worked in that city to care for those most in need.

The year – 1835,
The city – Rome,
The priest – St. Vincent Pallotti,
The woman – soon to be Blessed Elisabetta Sanna.

St. Vincent Pallotti believed that all are called to be apostles – sent not only to preach, but to care for the suffering in the world since all human beings are in the image and likeness of God. He understood that our actions can be minimal when we do them alone. Instead, he promoted greater collaboration and co-responsibility among all. In a rather polarized world, both of these words can seem quaint and unattainable. But, without collaboration, solidarity cannot happen effectively and without co-responsibility, subsidiarity is not possible. Each person, then, is called to work together with God and with others and recognize who and how best to assist those in need. As Pallotti said,

“Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well.”

 

Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center and Provincial Rector of the Immaculate Conception Province of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottines).

Great is Our Faithfulness: Why Celebrate Black History Month

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Deacon Al Turner, MTS

Why do we celebrate Black History month? What does it mean to us as black Catholics?

Black people have experienced the faith in the context of enslavement, civil war, Jim Crow, separate and un-equal, the civil rights movement, and the post civil rights movement era. All the while, we for the most part have stayed true to our Catholic faith and to the stated beliefs of the United States of America. Our leaders, well known or not, have held on to the belief in the notion of the American experiment in equality of persons.

St. Pope John Paul II while addressing 1,800 African American Catholics in New Orleans on Sept. 12, 1987, encouraged African American Catholics to contribute the gift of who they are to the wider Church. That is good citizenship in the tradition of Catholic social teaching.

From the first, we hoped that there was a place for us here as members of the Church and society. We had to invent and re-invent ourselves many times over the years and we did. We believed what we read or had read to us from sacred Scripture, that Jesus came to save ALL God’s children. We kept that notion always as an anchor of our lives. Even in the dark days of enslavement, we had the kind of sustaining faith that allowed us to survive even the racism inside the Church and within the hearts of our white brothers and sisters in Christ, some of whom owned us as property. Even in these worst of conditions, black people “knew” that community is the foundation of the soul of all people especially for us. We have always worked to make things better for ourselves and our children. There are no areas of endeavor that have not benefited from our participation.

There are examples of brave black people who distinguished themselves in the secular society, like Benjamin O. Davis Sr., the first African American to reach the rank of General Officer in the United States Military; Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress; and Sidney Poitier, the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best actor. These are some who help us to celebrate our achievements as good and productive citizens of this country.

We, black Catholics, can also be proud of others who lived up to not only the social creed of this nation but also to the spiritual creed as well. This includes people such as Daniel Rudd, a black Catholic layman, activist, journalist, and publisher of the American Catholic Tribune “the only Catholic journal owned and published by colored men.” He also founded the Lay Catholic Congress movement. We recall Fr. Augustus Tolton, the first identified African American man to be ordained a priest for service in the United States. He had to go to Rome for his formation because no U.S. seminary would admit him. He persevered and braved discrimination inside as well as outside the church. He believed in and lived a life that considered all people as creations of God and are, therefore, good. He is an inspiration for all.  We also recall Mother Mary Lange, OSP who founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first religious community for women of African descent.  She also founded a school that educated immigrant and enslaved children in Baltimore, Maryland when it was still illegal to educate black children. That school became St. Frances Academy, which is still in operation today as a co-ed High School.

These are just a few of the reasons we black Catholics should celebrate this month.

We are part of the heritage of this country. Our faithfulness in the belief that all men are created equal is a testament to our faithful citizenship. And, that is something to celebrate.

Deacon Al Turner, MTS, is the former Director of the Office of Black Catholics for the Archdiocese of Washington and is currently assigned to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Largo, MD.  

Lent 101: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Eric ClaytonMy wife and I stood in our little kitchen, washing and drying our dishes. It was Ash Wednesday. We had gone to different Masses that day and were commenting on the homilies we had each heard. The priest who had celebrated the Mass at which my wife had been present had reflected on the value of fasting, on how it is something to be undertaken with joy. So often, we’re tempted to take on a fast that makes us gloomy, unpleasant people, the priest had said. When he had given up coffee one year, it became less of a fast for him and more of a penance for those around him.

Fasting is always a funny thing. Each year, my wife and I spend those last few weeks of Ordinary Time prior to Lent pouring over the different fasts we can undertake, what we will do for Lent. But that year, standing in the kitchen, dripping dishes in hand, we realized something. God is perfectly clear about the kind of fasting we’re asked to undertake. In fact, God has been clear for thousands of years—and God reminds us each and every Ash Wednesday with distinct clarity through the words of Isaiah:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? (58: 6-7)

Just so. The call to charity and justice is unavoidable. It is, it would seem, God’s deepest desire for our own individual fasts. Swearing off social media is good in so far as it frees me to help another. Buying one less coffee a day can be a fruitful exercise if it means that the money not spent goes instead to a worthy cause. Honing my own self-discipline is important and valuable as long as it better enables me to fulfill those words of Jesus: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

If we keep this in mind, then our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving necessarily becomes other focused. Our prayer keeps us mindful of God at work in the world—in our lives and the lives of others—and poises us to act in line with the working of the Spirit. Our fasting becomes an exercise in self-emptying, of preventing the me-ness from preoccupying our minds; rather, it is to allow God to work within us, focusing our attention on another. And our almsgiving becomes the necessary response, the filling up and cascading over of love for neighbor, a desire to, in our self-emptied state, give of ourselves to those most in need.

Is this not the path that Jesus walked, that same path that we prayerfully consider throughout the season of Lent? Paul writes to the Philippians:

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (2:7-8)

So, then, the challenge for each of us this Lent is to reflect on our own practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and assess how our emptied selves are best put at the service of others. Bombarded by the international crisis facing us each day, I would suggest that our Lenten practice demands a global lens. How can these pillars of Lent lead us deeper into a spirituality of global solidarity? How can we give of ourselves to God’s one, human family, a family that crosses borders, cultures, and religions?

Certainly, this is not a challenge to be undertaken lightly—or completed quickly. But we can make it a goal of our Lenten journey to take a single step along the road of global solidarity. I offer, as a roadmap, CRS Rice Bowl, a program that aims to usher us further down that path, to close the gaps that separate us from our brothers and sisters around the world, to prepare in us a heart that is fertile and ready to receive and act upon the global mission of the Church. Your first stop on the journey might be crsricebowl.org or CRS Rice Bowl app, for your iOS and Android device.

But don’t let that be your last stop. Where will your prayer, fasting and almsgiving take you this Lent? Perhaps, more significantly, when these 40 days have ended, where then will you be prepared to go?

 

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services

Living Joy and Hope as a Global Church

Welch_RomeIt was the writings of great Church thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, and Newman who first introduced me to the intellectual heritage of the Roman Catholic faith. At that time, I was a young student on the campus of what was then a conservative Protestant Christian college. Reading these thoughtfully deliberative texts seemed like a provocative act. When I moved on to the papal encyclicals, I was fascinated by the way in which the Church outlined principles for how people of faith might relate to the world, particularly with regard to social issues and issues of justice that affect those on the margins.

Fast forward many years to early November 2015 and I found myself standing in the Papal Basilica of St. Peter in the heart of the City of Seven Hills. I had entered the basilica from a side door and it took a minute for my eyes to adjust from the bright light of the Mediterranean sun to the soft interior glow of the sacred space. I heard a dull roar to the right and looked over to see myself dozens of yards from a rope line that separated me from a throng of tourists. This was my third visit to the Vatican, but my first as a Catholic and certainly my first time on that side of the rope.

Mass at St. Peter’s that day was the highlight of a special celebration of the 50th anniversary of Gaudium et Spes, which is considered a landmark document of the Second Vatican Council that promoted interfaith dialogue and reinvigorated the Church’s approach to social justice. The Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace coordinated the Young Generations at the Service of Mankind that assembled members of the council, heads of institutes for social doctrine, representatives from international youth movements based in Rome, and a handful of selected young adults to represent the future of the Catholic faith across the continents. I was incredibly honored to be selected by Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of USCCB, who had been invited by Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson to send one young person from the United States.

During two days of intensive conference presentations and panel discussions facilitated by leading Catholic scholars, I became more familiar with the substantive message of Gaudium et Spes, which challenges Catholics and all people of good will to be responsive to what is happening in the world. Economists, political scientists, theologians, historians, and other experts spoke about pressing global concerns related to family, immigration, economics, technology, and good governance. Each of the young adult representatives was asked by Cardinal Turkson to present synthesizing remarks at the conclusion of the sessions. In this way, the council sought to create a “dialogue among generations.”

GaudiumetSpes_DocsThe group also gathered at the New Synod Hall in Vatican City for a ceremonial handing over of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. The six young representatives received a parchment and, in keeping with the future-oriented theme, a flash drive containing the social doctrine. These were handed out by individuals who had been part of the 1962-1965 Vatican II council. I was particularly moved, as a layperson, to receive my materials from Alain DeLauney who was a lay expert on financial matters at the Council.

Being part of the Gaudium et Spes conference and celebration reinforced my initial pull to a faith tradition that creates space for thoughtful dialogue. The robust discussion and interactions with young people from around the world also reminded me that today’s young adults desire to practice a real, engaged faith. They are eager for a global voice—a prophetic voice—that can speak boldly and exhort world leaders and structures. Pope Francis is offering us that opportunity, to root ourselves in Scripture and Church teaching, that we might go forth to practice mercy, sustained by the Eucharist, and emboldened by joy and hope.

 

Bethany Welch 2014Bethany J. Welch, Ph.D. is the founder of the Aquinas Center in Philadelphia, PA and recipient of the 2014 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award granted by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

 


 

Learn more about Catholic Social Teaching in our new CST 101 videos, a collaborative video series between Catholic Relief Services and the USCCB that explores the 7 themes of Catholic Social Teaching.

 

Faith-based Groups Leading Efforts for Racial Equity

Rich WoodPope Francis, on his recent visit to the United States and in his customary hopeful tone, remembered “the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans.  This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed” (Sept 26, 2015).

Many Americans—Catholic and non-Catholic alike—remain inspired by Pope Francis’ visit. Yet America also struggles to live up to his hopeful vision of eliminating racism and prejudice. Racial controversies roil our universities, incidents of racialized policing lead to deaths, and mass incarceration curtails the life chances of too many young black and brown men. We have failed to build racial equity into the fabric of our society. That task remains urgent three decades after the U.S. bishops diagnosed it thus: “Racism is not merely one sin among many; it is a radical evil that divides the human family and denies the new creation of a redeemed world. To struggle against it means an equally radical transformation, in our own minds and hearts as well as in the structure of our society” (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brothers and Sisters to Us, 1979).

The bishops and Catholics in the United States have been putting money into that struggle for decades through the annual collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which takes place in many parishes throughout the United States in November. CCHD’s systematic investment in faith-based community organizing in dioceses and archdioceses around the country represents perhaps the Church’s best investment in fighting racism and working for racial equity in America. These groups fight poverty by empowering people in poor and working class communities to work for social policies in line with Catholic social teaching—often collaborating across racial and ethnic lines.

Many CCHD-funded groups have come to focus on explicitly working for racial equity. One such group is Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower & Rebuild (POWER).  POWER brings together Philadelphians across lines of race, income level, faith tradition, culture, and neighborhood. More than 40 congregations from every section of the city have actively participated in the building of POWER, which works to address racism and promote policy changes to improve communities in Philadelphia, such as fair funding for education, economic dignity through fair wages, and access to affordable housing.

The work of POWER in Philadelphia is but one example of how CCHD-supported groups are realizing the hopes Pope Francis expressed during his visit to the United States. There are hundreds of groups carrying out this work throughout the United States. These kinds of local faith-based organizing efforts offer Catholics a chance to be part of answering those questions.

Answer Pope Francis’ call. Learn more about what CCHD-supported groups are doing in your area and get involved!

Richard L. Wood serves as a consultant to the CCHD Subcommittee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is the author of the just-published A Shared Future: Faith-Based Organizing for Racial Equity and Ethical Democracy, and works as a professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico


Learn more about the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the state of poverty in the United States at PovertyUSA.org.

During the month of January, don’t forget to celebrate Poverty Awareness Month using this printable calendar (en Español), longer daily reflections (en Español), and our daily emails.  These resources provide food for prayer and action to address poverty in the United States.