Catholic Charities Honors Legacy by Fighting Poverty
The following is an address delivered by CEO Deacon Dan Powers at St. Monica Catholic Church, during an observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.
Bishop, Knights, Ladies, and special guests:
Thank you for the invitation to come and speak about Catholic Charities and its commitment to ending poverty and achieving equality for all human persons. Catholic Charities, more than anything else, offers hope to those marginalized and forgotten by those in power.
We offer programs for the unemployed and under-employed, for men and women returning from prison, for the homeless and those on the verge of losing their homes, for young moms and young families, for those with mental illness, for veterans, for people who are deaf and disabled, for senior citizens, for those looking to adopt babies and children and those who lack clothing, food or hygiene items. We see nearly a hundred people a day in our Welcome Center in Kansas City.
However, the most important element of Catholic Charities’ service to the poor is hope. Every day we offer hope to the men and women who come to our doors. These men and women come to us beaten down and without hope or dreams.
On the Move Against Poverty
On March 25, 1965, Dr. King gave an address at the conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery march. Dr. King said: “We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:
We have come over a way
That with tears hath been watered.
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered.
Out of the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast.
Today I want to tell the city of Selma, today I want to say to the state of Alabama, today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now.”
At Catholic Charities – we too are on the move. We have created the Welcome Center concept where folks who come to us in need are greeted as brothers and sisters. We see them as people who have been robbed of their dreams and had their hope taken away. These brothers and sisters are amazingly resilient in the face of their gloomy past.
A Path to Stability and Beyond
In the Welcome Center, we see such sadness and desperation. We see men and women, old and young, all races, all ethnicities and all faiths. Over 80% of the people who come to us are not Catholic. We offer them a cup of coffee or a cold drink and have a conversation about where they have been and where they want to go. We try to move beyond the immediate needs and look for long-term and sustainable solutions. We see employment as one major pathway to stability and thriving.
One of the Gospel stories which motivates Catholic Charities is the Good Samaritan. If you remember the story, a man has been beaten up, robbed and left by the side of the road. Many people walk by and do nothing to help the person who cannot help himself. We see our own clients in this image. They have been robbed of their hopes and dreams and people leave them to fend for themselves.
In the Gospel, the Good Samaritan – who is Jesus – stops and binds up the man’s wounds. He places him on his donkey and takes him to the innkeeper for further help. At Catholic Charities, we see ourselves as the innkeeper. Jesus leads clients to us and expects us to treat them as He would treat them. With love, compassion and a healing touch. He wants us to restore their self-esteem and their opportunity to thrive.
Breaking the Cycle of Poverty
We had a woman come into our Welcome Center a while back asking for help with an unpaid bill. She was on a number of government benefits, but was always falling behind. One of our employees asked her what her dream was. She said that she always wanted to be a nurse. When the staff told her that we could help her achieve that dream she began to cry. The employee said that it wasn’t weeping, but “projectile crying”. She said that no one had ever asked her if she wanted a job. That woman works today in the health profession because of our inquiry in the Welcome Center.
So many people today have no hope. They believe that they will never break out of the cycle of poverty and the trap of government benefits. As the ‘good innkeeper,’ Catholic Charities doesn’t just bind up the wounds which are visible. We look deeper to find a solution which restores dignity and puts them back on the road to wholeness.
Listen again to the words of Dr. King: Let us march on poverty until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.”