Over 500 Catholics from across the United States and a few foreign countries gathered in Washington, D.C., from February 20 to 25. Sponsored by 19 groups, from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to the United States Conference of Bishops, people focused on the theme, "Christ Our Hope: Healing a Broken World."
With the economic crisis as a backdrop, workshops, discussions, and prayer focused attention on bringing Catholic social teachings to assist the poor, wherever they live.
Apostolic Nuncio offers reflections
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, opened the sessions by offering his reflections on the place of Catholic social teaching in the life and ministry of the Church. His personal history of service in the Cameroon, Jerusalem, Cuba, Algeria, India, and other countries gave depth and weight to his remarks.
He declared his optimism in the face of our current situation saying as ". . . a living witness of the love of Jesus, the care of Jesus, for the least, the United States will be invaded by the love of the Lord!"
He recommended reading The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, calling it a "unique and unprecedented document in the history of the Church." He explained that the Compendium has one over-arching theme: "Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Father's plan for love."
Archbishop Sambi set aside his prepared remarks to speak from his personal experiences. He said, "I heard many times politicians and diplomats speaking about justice and solidarity, but very rarely speaking abut love and peace."
He had recently heard that the majority of children in Africa enter the world in poverty, but he wanted to "add a phrase [to the report]….The children of Africa are born in a poor context, but they are welcome. The children of the western world are born in a rich context, but frequently, not welcome and this is the greatest poverty."
Seeking a new social order
He said the world has a new reality and as Catholics, we are actively seeking a new social order that includes justice, brotherhood, solidarity, and sharing. "When the poor man seeks, the Lord answers. The divine promises are addressed to the poor."
Archbishop Sambi blended optimism for the future with a clarion call to live our faith. He said, "The transformation of the world is the new commandment. It is a fundamental requirement of our times."
He closed his remarks by telling everyone how impressed he was by the work of the Catholic Church in the United States.
The archbishop's call to transform the world was re-echoed by the leaders of many of the sponsoring organizations, asking the diocesan staff members, volunteers from many organizations, clergy, and consecrated women present to keep in mind that we need to look at each piece of legislation to see how it affects the poor among us.
For instance, the Stimulus Bill should target children and joblessness. However, it includes $200 million in contraceptives "because poor children would be a burden on the state."
Steps to combat poverty
Positive steps to combat poverty were showcased. Catholic Charities USA instituted the "Campaign to Reduce Poverty in America" with the goal of reducing poverty by half (www.catholiccharitiesusa.org). With 100 years of experience in providing counseling, shelter, food, and other needs, Catholic Charities is bringing policy-makers and others together to find solutions to poverty within our country.
To reduce global poverty, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) launched "Catholics Confront Global Poverty," a new Web site that seeks one million people of good will to promote human life and dignity. Pope Benedict XVI's World Day of Peace Message amplifies the need for reaching deeper and embracing the cause of the poor: "fight poverty to build peace." (www.usccb.org/globalpoverty).
These might seem like challenging goals in a time when our own economy is rocky. However, measurable progress has been made worldwide in reducing poverty. CRS reported that in 1990, more than 1.8 billion people lived in extreme poverty. By 2005, that had dropped to 1.4 billion.
The proportion of undernourished children, during the same time period, dropped from 33 percent to 26 percent. There is great concern that these gains might be lost if successful programs cannot be maintained through lack of funding.
People are linked through faith
Across the country and in the Diocese of Madison, people are linked, through faith, with the people of the world. Many of our parishes, schools, and organizations have established bonds of friendship with people in other countries. They have supported drilling wells, building schools, providing medical supplies to orphanages, and many other acts of solidarity with the poor. We need to continue to reach out to those who are in need and suffering the pangs of hunger or the thirst for clean water.
This Lent, keep in mind how you want to be remembered in this time of economic downturn. Will your legacy be as a person who was fearful or as a person who was generous? Our neighbors need us to be there for them when they have lost their job, their home, or their health.
You can help in two important ways through Catholic Relief Services. One way is by setting a family goal for Operation Rice Bowl. For every $4 given, $1will be used to provide nourishing food within the diocese. Three dollars will go to CRS to help feed people around the world.
The second way to help is to give generously to the Catholic Relief Services Collection on March 21 and 22, 2009. We all need to pitch in to make sure the people who have the least, at least have enough.
In caring for the poor of the world, we will be forging bonds of friendship and bringing peace. That is one of the best investments we could ever make.
Speakers are available from primary to adult. For further information, contact Susanna Herro, 608-821-3086 or
Susanna Herro is the director of the Office of Justice and Pastoral Outreach for the Diocese of Madison.