November 1, 2013

Church must continue embracing mission to see face of Christ in the poor

By John Shaughnessy

BLOOMINGTON—One of the striking lessons that Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin has learned in his first year as the leader of the archdiocese is the impact that poverty has on people in Indiana.

“Nearly 20 percent of the people of Indiana live in poverty, and most of them are women and children,” the archbishop noted during a talk he gave at a meeting of Catholic Charities staff members at St. John the Apostle Parish in Bloomington on Oct. 9.

“The number of people living in poverty in our archdiocese continues to increase. Two reports released [recently] in the state illustrate both the extent of the poverty problem in Indiana as well as the consequences of poverty.”

He cited one report from the Polis Center of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis that states that nearly 200,000 people in Marion County live in poverty, including nearly 33 percent of the children in the county.

The archbishop also referred to a report from the Indiana Department of Health that “the number of suicides in our state has increased slightly every year for several years.”

“These reports confirm why Catholic Charities is needed more than ever,” the archbishop said.

While his comments at the meeting were a combination of a “thank you” to the Catholic Charities workers and a pep talk for them, his words were also a call to Catholics across the archdiocese.

“We must invite people to re-think what they know about poverty, and how they imagine poverty—and connect our faith and our spiritual relationship with God to how we deal with others.

“In Jesus, God identifies himself with those to whom service is given or refused. And our behavior to others is, in fact, behavior toward God. You have the privilege and the daily opportunity to encounter the very person of Jesus in those you serve. Seeing the face of Christ in the poor is not easy. This attitude must be nurtured through prayer and time with God.”

Catholic Charities workers in the archdiocese have lived that attitude, the archbishop said. In 2012, the archdiocesan agency served nearly 184,000 people, offering help that includes clothing, utility assistance, transitional housing, adoption assistance and refugee services.

Noting that there are times when Catholic Charities workers may feel overwhelmed and underappreciated, the archbishop told them they were “in good company,” citing their connection to two saints whose feast days are celebrated in October—St. Theodora Guérin and St. Francis of Assisi.

The archbishop noted the hardships that St. Theodora—the patroness of the archdiocese—faced when she first came to Indiana.

“We could also consider her one of the founders of Catholic Charities, at least being imbued with the spirit that keeps you going. The Sisters of Providence were teachers, but they also had the mission of caring for the sick who were poor.”

Referring to St. Francis, the archbishop noted, “He dedicated his life to serving the poor, to accompanying the poor. More than any other saint, Francis reminds us that being good stewards of God’s creation and caring for the least among us is a central part of the Catholic mission.”

That mission has also been embraced by Pope Francis, the archbishop said.

“In Pope Francis, we have a leader who has re-ignited the spirit of fighting poverty across the world. Pope Francis has spoken often about the need to build what he calls ‘a culture of encounter.’

“It’s an encounter that starts with Jesus, and leads us to reach out to those in need.” †

 

Related story: God gives us just what we need—ask Mother Teresa

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