Ask the Cardinal: Helping the Poor

Michael Mzuli with his daughter, Stephanie, 3, and wife, Janet live in the Kariobangi District in Nairobi, Kenya. Michael is a member of the Samba Youth Group, a project started by CRS and the local Catholic Church to provide job opportunities and a support forum for youth in Kariobangi.

Recently we observed the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s declaration of a “War on Poverty.”  Yet, in many ways, it seems we have just as much, if not more, poverty today.  What does Catholic social teaching have to say about eradicating poverty?

Jesus taught us that we have a relationship with each other.  We are to love God, but we are also to love one another.  Christ raises our relationship to an even higher level when we share the sacrament of baptism and become spiritual sisters and brothers.

Catholic social teaching is based on the understanding that we are one human family.  Thus we have an obligation to each other because we are all God’s children.  We are not free simply to turn away from the poverty, suffering and weakness of the human condition.

We should not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the challenges we face.  While Jesus pointed out that the poor would always be with us (Matthew 26:11), he did so in the context of a life that proclaimed his special love and care for the poor.  As followers of Christ, our actions should reflect his.  Make no mistake about it – Jesus tells us that we will be judged by how we have responded to the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the lonely and the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46).  We may not be able to eradicate all poverty, but that does not absolve us from our personal obligation to alleviate the sufferings and poor conditions of others.

The Church reminds us during Lent of the need for almsgiving, which we are obligated to do as a matter of fraternal charity and justice.  There are many ways to give, but I would like to highlight two particular initiatives in our local Church to provide help for the hungry.

Last year in the United States, nearly 48 million people needed federal supplemental nutrition assistance, while millions more children received food assistance through other programs.  In our own area, many families had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of resources.

One of the initiatives to fight hunger is the 2014 Lenten Food Drive, spearheaded by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.  In addition to ongoing food drives throughout the year, this special massive collection in archdiocesan schools and parishes provides over 50 tons of food to local food banks and parish pantries each year.  The Lenten Food Drive will be held over two weekends.  First, next weekend, March 22 and 23, collections will be accepted in Northwest and Southwest D.C. and Montgomery County, and then the following weekend of March 29 and 30, food will be collected in Northeast and Southeast D.C., and the Maryland counties of Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s.  For more information, please visit the Catholic Charities website.

Another helping hand extended by the Church is the CRS Rice Bowl for Lent 2014.  With parishes, schools, faith formation programs and other communities participating in recent years, the Rice Bowl provides tangible assistance to our brothers and sisters in need throughout the world while deepening our spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Operated on the national level by Catholic Relief Services with a local coordinator, the CRS Rice Bowl is a contribution-sharing program – 75 percent of our gifts go to Catholic Relief Services to address global poverty and hunger and 25 percent will remain in our archdiocese to support parish food pantries.  Last year, the Archdiocese of Washington collected nearly $82,000 overall thanks to your generous support.  For more information on how you can help this year, please visit our archdiocesan CRS Rice Bowl website.

In the face of a large hungry crowd, Jesus told the Apostles that they should give the people something to eat themselves.  Looking at their meager supply, they had their doubts, but with the Lord all things are possible (Mark 6:35-44).  If we work to help those in poverty, even though we might think our loaves and fishes inadequate, Jesus will multiply our efforts with his love and the world will be satisfied by the banquet he brings.