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