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Father Muench Says...

Church of the poor – church for the poor

July 2, 2014

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I would like to share with you some ideas I’ve learned concerning our Catholic Church’s efforts to serve the poor.  Recently, my friend, Father Phil Allen, encouraged me to read a book by Robert Calderisi, “Earthly Mission: The Catholic Church and World Development.”  Calderisi, a layman, is an economist and writer.  He has been involved with the World Bank  and has also traveled throughout the world, interviewing many to discover something of the Catholic effort to help development throughout the world.

I was deeply impressed with this book so I want to share some of these ideas with you.  Calderisi mentions several of the Catholic lay movements that have been successful in helping the poor and needy.  He makes it clear that prayer is an important part of each of these groups. 

One of the groups that he mentions is the Community of Sant’Egidio.  I remember attending one of the daily prayer services of this group when I was in Rome.  It is held each day at the Church of Santa Maria in Trastavere.  Prayer is an important part of this program.  They sponsor soup kitchens, educational programs, interfaith meetings and a continuing program to end the death penalty throughout the world.  Their work demonstrates the strength of their Catholic faith in action.

Calderisi points out that there has been a waning in the Catholic Church’s social mission.  He notes that there has been a trend in our Church to associate “Catholic” with a narrow range of moral issues – even retrenchment – rather than the openness and reforming zeal the Church stood for after the Vatican Council.

He quotes Cardinal Turkson of Ghana: “The Church’s social mission should remain central, and not just for priests, brothers and religious sisters – in a sense, this is the vocation of the laity.  If Christians don’t promote social change, who will?

The Second Vatican Council established a spirit that there is no difference between service and being Christian.  Our Catholic Church must be concerned with solving these urgent problems of people.  In these present days, this will necessitate working with other faith communities and the private sector; people of all faiths, little faith and even no faith at all are capable of devoting themselves to the welfare of others, impelled by pure humanity.

Calderisi makes a point here that the Church must manage its wealth more effectively, giving a better opportunity to help where needed.

There is hope.  There is a new pastoral spirit in the statements and action of Pope Francis.  He has given an image of a Church of the Poor – a Church for the Poor. This would be an important time for our bishops to make a statement concerning development, poverty and the environment.  Such a statement and program would put new life and new focus for the parishes of our diocese.  Now is the time for Catholics to be recognized for our readiness to deal with the needs of our people – all people – especially the poor and needy. 

Our Masses, our liturgies, our preaching must result in strong action by our people.  As Church, we must lead all to go out and live their faith boldly as we bring help to those in need.   We must be recognized as true disciples of Jesus – as people of faith who believe in a loving, caring God. 

Calderisi quotes an Indian priest: “Amidst globalization, competition and privatization, our faith must inspire us to really serve the poorest of the poor.  In spite of all the criticism she received, Mother Teresa was a genius in recognizing this forgotten dimension and restoring dignity to the poor.”

Finally, he quoted Father Bernard Lecomte, from way back in 1965: The Christian is called to join others (including people without labels) in fighting poverty not as Crusaders, but in this present age pursuing scientific and technical progress, our hearts open to the Gospel, demonstrating our commitments to something greater than ourselves.”

The question is - are we ready to continue and reinforce our Catholic and personal commitment to follow Jesus’ lead to help the poor and needy?

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