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Prepare To Share: Visit Poverty USA

The Grinch who stole Christmas won't be touring America's second-most- populous state this year. Why bother?

After all, that state is poverty, according to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). According to CCHD, more people live within the boundaries of the "state of poverty" than live in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Nevada combined.

In Poverty USA, annual income for a family of four is $17,184—or less. Such a family won't have many Christmas presents for the Grinch to haul back up the chimney!

To have even a tree, much less something under it, the 32 million people who live in poverty will have to cut some already sharp corners and rely on the generosity of others. We need to pay more than seasonal attention to people in this crisis situation.

No Place in God's Reign

The Catholic Campaign wants "to promote a spirit of solidarity among those who are successful, those who have acquired some share of this nation's goods and those still trapped in poverty." This month, they conclude the first of a three-year consciousness-raising campaign. In January, which they have christened "Poverty in America Awareness Month," they begin a new phase which focuses on children in poverty.

In the name of all Catholics, who believe that creation and created goods are to be shared by everyone (see Vatican II's The Church in the Modern World, #69), the Catholic Campaign reminds people of conscience that poverty is not usually noble but demeaning, disempowering, destabilizing, even dangerous.

On CCHD's Web site,, you can experience poverty for yourself. Or you can learn from someone you know.

According to the Campaign, four in 10 Americans currently know someone who is poor. Allow that person to inform your attitudes.

That person—let's call her Mary—probably works. About 7.2 million working people live in poverty, more than half of them engaged in service, sales or agricultural labor. If Mary or her children get sick—which often happens to those who eat poorly, must keep their thermostats low and lack warm coats—her paycheck can't cover groceries and medicine. If she gets laid off, she has no savings to fall back on.

Mary gets discouraged. She lives in a state of insecurity and tension. And her children wait for Christmas.

She, her family and all poor people should be treated with respect, but poverty itself should be eradicated. Mary can act on her own behalf (and CCHD excels at projects that empower), but she needs help.

Religious people sometimes point to Jesus in the manger or cite Matthew 26:11 ("The poor you will always have with you") to support an attitude of acceptance or resignation of poverty. Wrong.

We can ease the burden of people like Mary. Such expressions of love are the evidence of discipleship.

Jesus didn't mean for the works of mercy to be futile gestures. In fact, he comes down hard on those who refuse—like the Grinch—to help.

From Awareness to Action

The Grinch is fictional. Poverty is real. Around the world, poverty contributes to the festering resentment that can inspire terrorism. Around the nation, it results in hunger, homelessness, untreated health challenges and political apathy. CCHD has made praiseworthy efforts to communicate this. Their Web site suggests these five actions:

  • Donate time, talents, money or other resources to an organization that enables people to pack their bags out of poverty and move elsewhere. Include the Catholic Campaign for Human Development's November collection.
  • Know your employees. Pay them a living wage (including those who assist in your home, your yard or in temporary jobs).
  • If your child's school has 300 students enrolled, 50 of them may well live in poverty. Ask the school administrator how you can sponsor one child to ensure that he or she learns the skills that lead to success.
  • Volunteer to mentor the adult the statistics say you already know. Help with transportation, contacting helpful agencies, filling out paperwork and in acquiring basic skills.
  • Encourage your local media to investigate poverty in your community—by highlighting agencies that assist poor people and the success stories of those who no longer live in the state of poverty.

When the Infant Jesus grew old enough to speak in public, he used the words of Isaiah 61 to tell us all that his work was to bring glad tidings to the poor and freedom to the oppressed. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development continues that mission. Together we can make Poverty USA an uninhabited wilderness.—C.A.M.


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