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U.S. Bishops call on Congress to ‘put aside differences’, rebuild Gulf Coast, but not at cost of poor

.- The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called on members of Congress--from both sides of the aisle--to put aside their differences and unite to help rebuild the U.S. Gulf Coast, ravaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. They also challenged lawmakers to do it without cutting vital services to the poor.

The October 19th letter was issued by Archbishop Joseph A. Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Chairman, Hurricane Relief Task Force, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee.

In it, the bishops wrote that, “The waters of Katrina and Rita have receded, leaving our country and the Congress to face the urgent and enormous national task of recovery and rebuilding.”

“How we meet this challenge”, they said, “will be a test and an important sign of what kind of a nation we are and wish to be.”

The bishops stressed however, that they would actively oppose “any effort to pay for the costs of Katrina and Rita by cutting services in essential programs that serve the basic needs of low-income or vulnerable people.”

At a key moment when congress is deciding policy and funding for the Gulf recovery the bishops wrote that “The needs of the poor and most vulnerable must have first claim on our common efforts.”

“The poor and vulnerable cannot be left behind again,” they continued. “Each step of the way, the response to this disaster and plans for future recovery must be judged by how they touch the lives of ‘the least among us’” (Mt. 25).

“It would be wrong,” they stressed, “to cut essential food, housing and health care for the poor while the rest of us make no real sacrifice and, in fact, benefit from recent tax cuts.”

On September 14th, the bishop’s administrative committee issued a statement called, “Hurricane Katrina: Reaching Out, Renewal and Recovery in Faith and Solidarity.” At that time they also formed a task force for hurricane relief, headed by Houston-Galveston Archbishop Fiorenza, one of the co-authors of last week’s letter.

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