Bishop Richard E. Pates on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines

Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop of Des Moines

“… the poor no longer wait, they seek to be protagonists, they organize, study, work, demand and, above all, practice that special solidarity that exists among those who suffer, among the poor…” -Pope Francis, October 28, 2014

Just before Thanksgiving each November, parishes across the country offer people the opportunity to contribute to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). CCHD is the anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States. As the days of fall grow colder and shorter, it’s a bright sign of hope.

There are many problems weighing upon our nation today, too many to mention. Too many people don’t seem to count anymore. There’s a loss of compassion in the face of so many unable to find jobs and unable to raise families with confidence. Our society tolerates the destruction of the earth that should be our common home. This is a time of exclusion—the young, the old, the migrant, those in search of work are all feeling exclusion’s cold sting.  They fall victim to a “throw-away” culture of which Pope Francis warns.

Enter CCHD. CCHD supported groups are demonstrating that, even in the midst of these painful realities, solidarity is more powerful than exclusion. In my experience as a priest and bishop, I can tell you that the work of CCHD is a sign of God’s presence in our suffering communities, a sign of hope. Let me tell you how CCHD and CCHD supported groups are making that possible.

  • CCHD is about community and solidarity.

The remedy to the poverty and coldness in human interactions today—in families, between employers and those seeking dignified jobs, between politicians and everyday working families—must be a genuine solidarity. Real solidarity can restore community relationships and build a society in which no one is forced into the bondage of poverty. CCHD brings people together to exercise real solidarity and look for solutions to common problems. In Iowa City, the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa brings together immigrant workers from Latin America, Africa and Asia. Together, these workers assist each other in recovering stolen wages from unscrupulous employers, keeping their immigrant families together, and building positive relations with local law enforcement. This is what solidarity looks like.

  • CCHD is evangelization.

    Amos

    AMOS’ work led to the development of a fully equipped, professionally staffed mobile obstetric clinic that visits the city of Ames twice a month.

Expressing our love for those in need by empowering them with tools for a better life is a way of expressing Christ’s love. It testifies to God’s Kingdom and to the truth of Catholic social teaching. Our participation in the work of CCHD gives witness to our commitment to love as Jesus loves. In the Diocese of Des Moines, parishes and faithful Catholics involved in the Amos Institute for Public Life have worked together to create Project IOWA.  This project trains people with new skills and places them in jobs that pay living wages. As Pope Francis recently said, “…love for the poor is at the heart of the Gospel. Land, housing and work, those things for which you are fighting, are sacred rights. Claiming those things is not unusual, it is the social doctrine of the Church.”

  • CCHD evangelizes us.

Those involved in the work of CCHD experience that special solidarity that exists among those who suffer. Those encounters resonate with the experience of the suffering Jesus, but also with the Resurrected Lord whose power brings restoration to broken communities. In this way, CCHD is a great gift to the Church.  CCHD can reinvigorate parish life. Parishes in the Diocese of Davenport have been enlivened by their participation with Quad Cities Interfaith and through their work to secure public transportation for parents who need to get to work. By encountering Jesus in the needs of our neighbor, we are brought to a deeper faith.

In these difficult times, the work of CCHD is a sign of hope. By restoring warmth to our relations with one another and to our communities, CCHD supported groups are building pathways out of poverty and rebuilding societies on a foundation of justice.

Speaking to participants at the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Pope Francis said that true solidarity in action brings “the wind of promise that fuels the dream of a better world.” As he said, “May that wind become a gale of hope.”   Please give generously to the CCHD collection.

Richard E. Pates is the bishop of Des Moines and the immediate past chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace.

CCHD: Living the Message of Christ on the Margins

Bruenig

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig

Isaiah 42 tells us how we will know the Messiah:

He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow dim or be bruised until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

In fulfilling this prophecy, Jesus Christ confronts us with the boldness of his example: what does it mean to support the bruised and smoldering, and to work tirelessly for justice?

It means, in part, directing our help to the most vulnerable members of society. In 2013, roughly 45 million Americans lived in poverty, close to 15 million of them children. For newcomers to the United States, poverty rates are often higher than those among the native-born population. People who are struggling live all around us, in every city and state, with a broad range of needs corresponding to income, age, health, and immigration status – and Christ’s example directs us to reach out to them all.

But because the needs of our suffering neighbors are diverse, so too must be our methods of outreach. There is the policy approach: for example, in 2013, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps) kept nearly 5 million people out of poverty. Despite its success in keeping struggling families food secure, SNAP has repeatedly come under fire by politicians hoping to make gainful cuts to social spending. So the CCHD’s commitment to providing clear and accurate information about the function of SNAP and other programs aimed at supporting poor families is an incredibly valuable tool for inviting Catholics into public advocacy for the good of our suffering neighbors.

It is somewhat more challenging to measure the impact of local and grassroots organizations helping people in need, in part because the forms aid can take are very diverse. But community-built support systems are absolutely indispensible to the health of society, and can oftentimes respond to needs that large-scale government programs would have more difficulty addressing. The CCHD’s mission to locate and fund ground-level aid groups is the subsidiarity-based counterpart to its solidarity-based advocacy for SNAP, and its goals are just as necessary.

Consider, for example, Parent Voices Oakland, an Oakland-based advocacy group seeking effective childcare solutions for working parents. A CCHD grantee this year, Parent Voices Oakland aims to respond to a problem recently profiled in the Pacific Standard – that is, the rise of round-the-clock daycare due to the increasing work loads of parents in the labor market. But childcare, especially for parents who work very long hours, is not necessarily affordable, reliable, or obviously safe, and for working families all three of those qualities are absolutely necessary. Parent Voices Oakland hopes to establish community-based childcare choices as well as eventually make childcare available to all parents regardless of income or current access. Like the CCHD’s model, Parent Voices considers all options, from state programs to community organizations, and in doing so makes the most of the rich tapestry of support working parents are due.

This model of help – which utilizes the talents and knowledge of low-income families and their communities as well as their organizing potential – recognizes the full value of the people who have asserted their need, and gives us some insight into what a Church on the Margins might look like. It will be prophetic in its mission, and like the Messiah, it will place first the well-being of those who are weak, suffering, and vulnerable. But it will not just support top-down distributions of resources. It will walk with the suffering as they make their own way forward, bringing forth outside help when needed, and supporting already-present community resources for change when they are available.

The CCHD, in other words, is an avenue through which we can live the message of Christ on the margins, where so many reeds are bruised and wicks are close to burning out. Like the Messiah’s mission on earth, the goal is justice – and where justice is needed, tireless work is required. For those of us watching trends in inequality and economic pressure on families with despair, this is the work that must be done.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is from Fort Worth, Texas. She writes about Christian ethics, poverty and political theology for Salon, The Atlantic and The Week. She is a graduate of Brandeis University and obtained her MPhil in Christian theology from the University of Cambridge. She is currently a doctoral student at Brown University.