November 7, 2014


‘Setting the pace, changing the course’ of poverty in Indiana

In Indiana, there’s more than basketball and football that pique our interest in the sports arena.

As Hoosiers, we’re also known for our passion for racing.

Whether it’s the Indy Car Series, NASCAR, the Motocross Grand Prix or any other form of fast-moving competition, our state is fertile ground for getting hundreds of thousands of people to spend an afternoon at these events.

And Pope Francis thinks racing and caring for our brothers and sisters in need can go hand in hand.

At Catholic Charities USA’s annual national gathering on Oct. 4-7 in Charlotte, N.C., the Holy Father used several racing references to open the meeting, sharing a personalized video message in his native Spanish. The video was viewed last week as well by those attending an archdiocesan Catholic Charities summit here.

The pope commented on the NASCAR-inspired theme, “Setting the Pace, Changing the Course,” because Charlotte is home to one of the auto racing association’s headquarters.

“I really like the theme ... because it’s really fitting with what I wanted to share with you,” Pope Francis said.

“You are the very hands of Jesus in the world. Your witness helps change the course of many people, many families and many communities,” he continued. “You are the engine of the Church that’s responsible for the Church’s love, or caritas. You set the pace for the Church to be present in the world, day in and day out.”

In his use of the word “pace,” the Holy Father is inviting us to make a difference—such as in assisting the 45 million Americans today living at or below the poverty line. Here in Indiana, 15.9 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line.

“Be merciful,” the pope said. “I ask you to place the poor ahead of yourselves in everything you do.”

The pope’s message for the people from Catholic Charities agencies and partners attending the Charlotte conference and the Indianapolis summit could not have been more appropriate, but it is also a message that all of us should take to heart.

Pope Francis reminded participants that, since day one of his papacy, he has been telling the whole Church that “going out in the street could get you bruised, staying in your home behind locked doors is safe.

“I would rather have a wounded and stained Church that’s out in the street,” he continued, “rather than having a Church that’s ill because of staying behind locked doors, comfortable and clinging to the safety of the status quo.”

How many of us are satisfied with where we are in life? Though we may think that life is good, we need to look around our communities and see if that holds true for others.

We need, as Pope Francis has said, to go out into the world and promote a “culture of encounter.”

It is what Catholic Charities agencies across the country do so well, noted Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte.

“A ‘culture of encounter’—going out to meet others, to encounter them, especially the marginalized and those who are on the peripheries, to be with them, paying attention to each person’s human dignity. A ‘culture of encounter’ to counteract the broader secular ‘culture of waste,’ as the Holy Father refers to it, in which some people are deemed to be expendable,” Bishop Jugis said during an Oct. 5 Mass at the Catholic Charities USA meeting.

We must respond with “a serious infusion” of Christian charity to counteract this culture of waste, fostering “a cult of communion and solidarity,” Bishop Jugis added.

But the work is not solely Catholic Charities’ mission. As disciples of Christ, it is the mandate of all the faithful.

We observed October as Respect Life Month, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked each of us to especially pray for the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, who like “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation,” the theme of last month’s Respect Life program.

But our mission to respect all life extends beyond October. May we each make time each day to do our part by “Setting the Pace, Changing the Course” in Indiana and throughout the world to work to end poverty.

Together, this is one race we should all strive to win.

—Mike Krokos

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