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Keeping the Faith in Hard Times


Words of Comfort
Turning Words to Action
Holding on to Hope

Let’s talk about the economy. Recently, I conducted a rather unscientific experiment. For one day I decided to keep track of the number of times the current economic situation came up in the news, in conversations, online or on the radio. By midday, when I had already reached over 50 references—about why we’re in this situation or how to get out of it—I decided I was too depressed to continue.

Unfortunately, that’s reality these days. In fact, the majority of economic analysts agree that the economy was the number one issue in the election of President Barack Obama.

Recession, economic downturn, financial crisis—whatever you want to call it, people are struggling and hurting. I know. I’m there. My husband lost his job a few months ago.

Even the Catholic Church is feeling the pinch. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has frozen wages and department budgets for 2009; dioceses and parishes are suffering cutbacks as well.

The Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projected that the high rate of unemployment could mean up to 10.3 million people falling into poverty. That figure included approximately 6.3 million people lapsing into deep poverty, which includes those whose income is below half of the poverty line. In 2007, that was about $11,500 for a family of four.


Words of Comfort

The late Father Norman Perry, O.F.M., our former editor, used to say that in times of crisis people turn to their faith for comfort and answers.

Last November, the U.S. bishops reiterated that sentiment by issuing a statement on the economic crisis.

The letter was the suggestion of Bishop Leonard Blair of Toledo, Ohio. He told the bishops that the day before the meeting a major employer in his state had announced it was eliminating 9,500 jobs—7,000 of which were in Wilmington, Ohio.

“Our people are hurting and the bishops want to be with people as they’re hurting,” he said.

The following day, a letter was issued on behalf of the conference by President Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. (You can read the letter here.)

In the following months, Cardinals Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles and Adam J. Maida of Detroit issued similar statements to the people of their archdioceses, encouraging them to place their trust in God and seek consolation in Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI, too, has reminded us of the global scope of this economic crisis.

But while I’m sure all of those statements were made with the very best of intentions, I wonder if they did much to ease the worries of homeowners wondering how they’re going to make their next house payment or parents trying to keep food on the table.

No, letters and statements don’t ease the fear of uncertainty that can come in times like this; people do—family, friends, neighbors, even fellow parishioners. Actions do.

It’s time for us to apply our faith to hard times. Sometimes the upside of a crisis is that it puts things in perspective and pulls people together. We become more in tune with what’s going on around us and reach out to help those who are suffering. And that is where the Catholic Church and its members tend to shine. The U.S. bishops made note of that in their letter.

“Hard times can isolate us or they can bring us together,” the letter said. “This disturbing and complicated situation brings home a universal truth: We are all children of God. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are all in this together.”

That’s where each of us comes in. In short, if you can help, help. If you need help, ask. I personally know that something as small as, “We’ll say a prayer for you,” can make a world of difference.

Just one week before a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, shut down permanently, the Diocese of Madison held a Mass for those who were unemployed.

During the Mass, Bishop Robert C. Morlino said the “whole diocesan family has to look for ways to help those who need help.”

St. Andrew Parish in Rochester, Michigan, started a job-support group. When it began last year, there were about 20 participants. Now there are at least 80 people at the twice-monthly meetings.

“We started out thinking we’d review resumes and interview techniques, but we found that the main thing people really need is support,” said Betty Dobies, chair of St. Andrew’s Mentoring Ministry.

On Christmas Day, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, announced that beginning in late January Rhode Island Catholic, the diocesan newspaper, would publish help-wanted ads free of charge. Rhode Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

Eventually things will get better. It may take a while. We certainly didn’t get into this situation overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight. In fact, one of the worst things we could do is look for a quick-fix, short-term solution for such a massive problem.

In the meantime, let’s hold on to each other and our faith to help get us through.—S.H.B.


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