The statistics on poverty are overwhelming. You can easily find numbers, graphs, and charts that are sorted by every category imaginable: region, gender, age, median income, and a number of other categories. It’s a lot to swallow.
Those numbers certainly have a place and a purpose. In fact, you can see some of them on the opposite page. But, often, what these statistics are missing are the faces behind the numbers. Every one of those numbers represents someone’s grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child.
Think about your definition and vision of poverty. Is it homeless people, ramshackle or makeshift houses, third-world countries, beggars? What if I told you that right now you could possibly know someone in poverty or struggling to stay above the poverty line? Statistics say you probably do.
Why the Apathy?
As a society, we often hear or see those statistics, then promptly dismiss them. It’s easy to do. Maybe we do it because the numbers seem so daunting. After all, what can one person possibly do to help 46.2 million people living in poverty in the U.S.?
Maybe it’s because we don’t quite understand the stats and their implications. Maybe it’s because those numbers make us feel uncomfortable. Or maybe we don’t see poverty as our problem. Add to that the stigmas and generalizations placed upon those struggling in poverty—they’re said to be lazy, unmotivated, uneducated. Trying to persuade people to get involved and make a difference is a challenge. Whatever the reason for people not getting involved, though, it’s not acceptable. Not for Catholics, not for Christians.
The Bible is filled with calls to help the least of our brothers and sisters, such as Matthew 25, Luke 6, and many other passages. Our popes and bishops echo this and have repeatedly reminded us of our Gospel obligation. We need to help our brothers and sisters.
In the document Answering the Voice of the Spirit, issued by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the U.S. bishops say: “Like Jesus, may the Spirit provide us with a voice to cry out for justice for the poor. Remind us that what we do to the least of those among us, we do to you.”
In addition to speaking up, our Church is also doing something to combat poverty through many programs, such as the ones we featured in this special report.
What’s Our Part?
Where are we in the equation? What can we as individual Catholics do to reach out to those in need? Here are a few suggestions.
Change your attitude. Too often we paint in broad strokes and make assumptions concerning the poor. Be charitable. People in poverty don’t choose their situation. Who would? Any of us could be one job loss, illness, or tragedy away from joining the ranks of those struggling to keep themselves above the poverty line. Rather than tearing down the poor, why not try to help change their reality?
Hit the grocery. Many parishes have food pantries where those in need can come to get groceries. Add a few items to your normal grocery list to donate.
Work for change. Get involved with organizations, such as St. Vincent de Paul, or programs that work to help people escape the grips of poverty, either through employment, housing, or education. Check with your parish to find opportunities or make connections.
You might find ways to use your skill set to help make a difference in people’s lives. For instance, if you’re a teacher, you could help tutor students so that they can further their education. Education is a key route out of poverty.
Or, if you’re adept at working on houses, you could help with repairs or general upkeep for those who can’t for various reasons.
Pray. Our prayers for people in poverty not only are for them, but also for us. We pray to align ourselves with the spirit of God’s will: we must love one another as we would love ourselves.
In their 2002 pastoral letter, “A Place at the Table,” the U.S. bishops issued a call to Catholics to care for the poor. The letter can be found at: usccb.org.
In the letter, they issued the following challenge: “As Catholics, we must come together with a common conviction that we can no longer tolerate the moral scandal of poverty in our land and so much hunger and deprivation in our world. As believers, we can debate how best to overcome these realities, but we must be united in our determination to do so. Our faith teaches us that poor people are not issues or problems but sisters and brothers in God’s one human family.”
Our leaders are right. People in poverty are our brothers and sisters. We are called to help them. We are compelled to help them. Our faith demands it.