The bishops of Maryland urged Catholics in the state to contact elected officials and ask them to consider the needs of the poor as they make public policy decisions in the upcoming year.
“Thousands of our brothers and sisters who are homeless experience the daily reality of a life in crisis,” they said in a statement released before the opening of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2012 session.
Caring for the poor is “an obligation and a requirement of true justice,” they underscored.
The Jan. 9 statement was issued by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Cardinal-elect Edwin F. O’Brien, apostolic administrator of Baltimore, and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington.
The bishops recalled the “challenging circumstances” faced by Joseph and Mary, traveling to a foreign city, being unable to find lodging even as Mary was “on the verge of childbirth,” and then being forced to flee to another country to escape danger.
Although many are familiar with this story, people often “forget that this scenario is played out over and over, every day, in the lives of millions of people.”
While Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in America, many of its residents are struggling to meet their basic needs, they explained.
In the last year, the poverty level in Baltimore alone has increased by 20 percent and now affects one in four residents.
Almost 700,000 families in Maryland receive food assistance, and 2010 estimates indicate that more than 10,000 locals are homeless.
Twenty percent of Maryland households with children reported being unable to feed their families at times during 2009-2010.
The bishops voiced their concerns that due to continuing high rates of unemployment, many individuals in the state are struggling to find adequate food, clothing and shelter.
Recalling that we encounter Christ in our interactions with other people, they said that love of one’s neighbor is the duty of every Catholic.
The principle of subsidiarity demands that individual Catholics should donate their “time, resources and voices” to serve the poor, said the bishops, noting that the Catholic community of Maryland serves as “the state’s largest non-governmental provider of social services,” providing assistance to thousands of those in need.
However, because individuals do not have the capacity to meet all of the needs that exist, the government shares in the responsibility of caring for the poor, they said.
While they acknowledged the fiscal crisis faced by many levels of government, the bishops also recognized the necessity of laws that incorporate “the principles of justice and respect for human dignity.”
They emphasized the importance of housing as a “basic human right,” which they said “should be made accessible to all.”
Those in the state should remind members of the Maryland General Assembly that “the budget is a moral document that reflects the public’s priorities.”
Reminding Maryland Catholics of their call to put faith into action in their everyday lives, the bishops asked them to encourage legislators to institute policies that promote the creation of jobs and offer relief for the poor and vulnerable through a “social safety net.”