WASHINGTON (November 12, 2002) -- The nation's Catholic bishops today will reaffirm the Catholic community's commitment to overcoming poverty, recalling that such efforts are an important response to threats to our national security.
"As our nation debates its response to terrorism and other threats, we cannot simply consider military responses," according to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and Chairman of the Bishops' Domestic Policy Committee. Our nation should "seek not only a safer world, but also a better world," the U.S. Catholic bishops insist in a draft statement on poverty being considered during their annual meeting in Washington this week.
"As bishops we must hold up the importance of investing in hope by pursuing policies that address the roots of violence and reduce poverty and suffering in our nation and world. By approving this statement, we will communicate to our own people and to our nation that Pope Paul VI's statement, 'If you want peace, work for justice,' is still an essential message."
In A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and Respect the Dignity of All God's Children, the bishops describe the seriousness of the problem. "How can we claim to live in a country with 'justice for all' when there are so many poor people that if they all lived in one state, it would be the second largest state in the union?" McCarrick asked. "How can we expect a world of peace and good will when more than half the people in the world live on less than two dollars a day and cannot afford essentials like food and medicine?"
"This is a moral scandal which contributes to the discord that we now see in our world," McCarrick added. "As leaders of the Catholic church in this country, we must speak to our community, our nation, and our world about the responsibility we all have to go beyond working to make the world safer by investing significant effort and resources in making the world better, especially for those who are suffering the most."
If approved, the statement will launch a nationwide effort by Catholics to serve people in need and work to overcome poverty. Acknowledging the extensive efforts which already are underway in parishes, dioceses, and other Catholic institutions, the statement asks every Catholic to find concrete ways to share what they have, to make wise choices for themselves, their families, and their communities, and to make their voices heard as public policies and priorities are decided. These efforts will be supported by web-based resource materials for parishes, dioceses, schools, and other Catholic institutions.
The bishops use the image of a table to illustrate the urgency of including all people in economic, social, and political life.
"A table is where people come together for food. For many, there is not enough food and, in some cases, no table at all.
"A table is where people meet to make decisions—in our communities, our nation, and our world. Many people have no place at the table. Their voices and needs are ignored or dismissed."
The bishops also affirm the Catholic commitment to charity and justice for those who are poor. "When we gather as Catholics to worship, we gather around a table to celebrate the Eucharist…As the Catechism of the Catholic Church insists, 'The Eucharist commits us to the poor.'"
"Efforts to overcome poverty should not be distorted by ideological agendas," the bishops state. They identify four institutions in society—four legs of the table--that must work together to address this problem. These are (1) individuals and families; (2) community organizations and faith-based institutions; (3) the marketplace and institutions of business, commerce, and labor; and (4) government.
"The debate about how to address poverty in the United States and abroad too often focuses on just one of these four foundations and neglects others . . . Some emphasize family responsibility or the role of religious and community groups. Some insist the market can solve all our problems. Others see a government solution for every
challenge, while still others see government corruption as an insurmountable obstacle to development."
The bishops suggest that all four elements have an important role to play. "A table may fall without each leg," they point out.
The statement concludes with a call to Catholics to take up the challenge of addressing poverty as a fundamental measure of discipleship. They urge the Catholic community to do this through prayer and worship, through preaching and education, in their everyday decisions and actions, by serving those in need, and by working for greater justice and peace in the U.S. and in solidarity with the human community throughout the world.
"For believers, this mission is not simply a matter of economics or politics but of discipleship . . . it is impossible for a Christian to say, 'This is not my task.'"