March 13, 2015

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

How will you respond?

David SilerThe five Indiana bishops have released a pastoral letter discussing the issue of poverty in the state of Indiana. I hope that you will take the time to read the letter, which can also be found in Spanish here, and I pray that it will inspire you, your family, your colleagues and your parish to action.

I pray, too, that you will take an additional step and respond to the survey, which the bishops will use to inform them in the development of a pastoral plan to reduce poverty in our state.

The work on this pastoral letter began a couple of years ago—before we knew that we would welcome a new pope who would greatly emphasize the Church’s responsibility to serve the poor.

Through your reading of the pastoral letter, you will find that a major point of emphasis is the role of the family in either contributing to or mitigating poverty, depending on the health and well-being of families.

Little did we know when discussions first began regarding the pastoral letter that Pope Francis would call for the Synod of Bishops to discuss the family. At the same time, some of our key civic leaders in Indiana are currently calling new attention to the breakdown of families, and the resulting poverty that often follows.

All this is to say that the content and the timing of the bishops’ pastoral letter on poverty is not mere coincidence, but appears to be a clear movement of the Holy Spirit. It is now time for all of us to get caught up in this movement of the Spirit, and contribute our time, talents and treasures for the benefit of those who are suffering due to their economic situation.

Words can be very limiting, and can carry a great deal of prejudice and misunderstanding. The words “poverty” and “poor” come to mind.

The word “poor” does not suffice in describing what the pastoral letter intends to communicate. Father Larry Snyder, former president of Catholic Charities U.S.A., has a well-reasoned definition of poverty in his book, Think and Act Anew: How Poverty in America Affects Us All and What We Can Do about It. That definition, though not perfect, is used in the bishops’ pastoral letter to offer a common understanding of the situation.

This definition of poverty explains that individuals are considered poor if:

  • they cannot afford housing that is clean, safe and in good repair;
  • they cannot afford nutritious food for themselves and their family on a regular basis;
  • they cannot consistently pay their utility bills even though it is a priority;
  • their children are not adequately clothed for school with clean clothes that fit and are in good repair, and they do not have proper clothing for work;
  • they cannot afford to go to the doctor for any kind of illness because they fear that the visit will be beyond their means to pay for it.

Many people in our archdiocese, our state and our country constantly face those struggles. Let’s keep their struggles in mind as all of us discern how we will respond in love to help our brothers and sisters in need.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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