Bishop Blaire urges Catholics to help Americans living in poverty
By Marianne Medlin
A homeless man sits with his belongings. Credit: Franco Folini (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A homeless man sits with his belongings. Credit: Franco Folini (CC BY-SA 2.0)

.- Amid the country’s recession woes, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that nearly one out of every six Americans is living in poverty – a problem, says a leading Church figure, that every Catholic should be the solution to.

“There has to be a shared sacrifice by everybody if we're going to address the economy,” Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California told CNA on Sept. 16.

Bishop Blaire, who heads the U.S. bishops' committee on domestic policy and human development, said that Church has an obligation to not only provide for the physical needs in those in poverty, but “to continue to advocate to our government leaders on behalf of the poor.”

On Sept. 13, the U.S. Census Bureau issued a report saying that in 2010, almost one in six Americans was living in poverty, with children especially affected by the economic decline. Numbers from last year show that 46.2 million U.S. citizens lived below the poverty line, earning a little over $22,000 a year for a family of four.

The report comes as an estimated 14 million people are out of work across the nation, comprising an unemployment rate unseen by the country in decades. 

In a Sept. 14 article, the Washington Post cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed that although total employment is expected to increase by 15.3 million – 10 percent – from 2008 to 2018, the number of jobs in several common industries, such as agriculture and postal work, will substantially decrease.

“We continue to face enormous challenges in our country – we have so many people who still do not have work, so many people that are receiving less than adequate wages to live or raise a family, so many people have lost their homes,” Bishop Blaire said.

“As the Holy Father has said, when people are without work, it diminishes their humanity,” he noted, adding that it's “the responsibility of the lay community especially in government, in business and in other institutional entities to work together to address the issue.”

The bishop criticized partisan bickering in recent budget debates, saying the poor are in constant danger of being overlooked in terms of federal funding. He also urged Catholics to help prevent political ideologies from taking on “a divine authority.”

“Most of the talk is about putting the middle class back to work and that's fine but we must not be afraid to speak about the poor – you don't hear that word very often,” he remarked. 

“There are so many areas that have to be looked at in terms of a balanced budget but special attention has to be given to the care for the most poor and most vulnerable in our society,” he insisted.

“If you continue to have this polarization where people are not sitting down at the table together it's hard to see how we can move ahead.”

Bishop Blaire also warned against the subtle prejudice – found even in some Catholics –  against those in poverty.

“There still is a tendency in some to blame the poor for being poor,” he said. “Granted, we all have to accept responsibilities, but many of the poor are poor for reasons that are beyond their control.”

“Many of them are the mentally ill, those who have disabilities, single mothers who are struggling trying to find enough work to raise their children,” he added. 

“And so you hear periodically, 'well the poor are poor because they need to accept more responsibility' – well, we all have to accept responsibility.”

To those who argue that government assistance programs such as welfare and unemployment are in constant risk of being abused, the bishop said, “there's always going to be abuse and you always have to work to correct it.”

“But we have to keep those who are the poorest in our society on our agenda,” he emphasized.

“People have forgotten that some of the greatest contributions to society have come from people who are poor, who have received an education and have been able to contribute.”

Ultimately, “it's the role of the Church to try to keep everything in proper perspective,” he said.

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