October 5, 2007

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

A face for Jesus

Charlie is just 12 years old, but he already knows what divorce means and feels like, what it is like to wake up hungry in the morning, what drug addiction can do to a mother and what it feels like to have switched schools 10 times in his short lifetime. He also knows what it’s like to fall behind in school and feel like a failure due to an inconsistent and unstable home life.

By God’s grace, Charlie, who currently lives in Terre Haute, found his way to the after-school program at Ryves Youth Center at Etling Hall, a program of Catholic Charities.

Charlie is on his way to reading and writing at his grade level and, for the first time, he has some stability in his life. His life outside of school is still a struggle, but he finally has a place to go every day where he feels safe and secure.

Beth Sabelhaus, education coordinator for the Catholic Charities program, says that when Charlie first came to the youth center, he was extremely withdrawn and angry most of the time.

­­Now he smiles all the time, and enjoys reading and drawing. Beth told me recently that school is now a bright spot in his life.

Charlie’s story is not much different than nearly one in five children living in the state of Indiana. Recently released 2006 U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that 277,000 Indiana children live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line—up 6 percent from the previous year.

Overall, the data tells us that in 2006, almost 778,000 Hoosiers lived in poverty—a climb from 12.2 percent in 2005 to 12.7 percent in 2006, or an increase of about 37,000 people.

The poverty rate on a national basis remained essentially unchanged for the same one-year period—36.5 million Americans.

How is it that in this “world of plenty” so many go without so much? How is it that in a state and nation with so many Christians that so many of our neighbors do not have the basic necessities of life? The debate on these questions may never end, but while we argue and debate, Charlie remains hungry.

This poverty data bothers me, and I hope that it bothers you, too. Charlie’s story bothers me, and I hope that it bothers you, too.

Charlie is one of those described by Jesus as one of the “least among us.” And Jesus said that this is where we find him. So, if we want to find Jesus and experience all the love and joy that he wants to bring into our lives, we need to find the Charlies in our midst.

Like many of you, I looked at the worn face of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta on the front page of The Criterion a few weeks ago. I was reminded that looking into the face of Jesus every day as she did causes a reflection to be worn on that face—a face that reflects the love and joy of Jesus Christ.

To learn more about how you can help those in need in your area and about the national work of Catholic Charities USA, go to www.CatholicCharitiesIndy.org.

(David Siler is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.) †

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