"Our listening sessions convinced us that the plight of those living in poverty in our state is reaching crisis proportions. At the same time, we grew in awareness that providing just a little help can make a big difference," they said.
"We heard in the voices of people who are poor both a plea for mercy and a desire to participate fully in the life of their communities," their letter continued. "Reflecting on what we heard, we recognize the urgent need for action to alleviate the suffering that has become epidemic in every city, town and community in our state."
"In our conversations, we learned the sad truth that many simply accept insecurity and suffering as an inevitable condition of daily life," the bishops continued. Many of those who suffer sever poverty also strongly desire to help others experiencing similar problems.
"If we believe the faith we profess, how are we to respond to so many of our neighbors who do not share the benefits of our state's economic wealth?" the bishops asked.
They noted the various complex social and economic factors affecting people in poverty. To address hunger, homelessness, and chronic unemployment, they said, Catholics must form their consciences well and then "take direct action that demonstrates concern for our sisters and brothers."
"Jesus assures the least among us, whom he counts among those who are blessed, that the kingdom of God is theirs. And he assures us, as he assured the rich official, that when we share with them, we will have treasure in heaven," the bishops continued.
Christ calls people into a relationship with their neighbor, which is "a much greater challenge" than simply solving a problem.
"The dignity of human life, the common good and solidarity are more than mere words and phrases. They are the foundation stones of our values and actions as faithful Catholic citizens," the bishops continued. "When we acknowledge the inherent dignity of the human person, we definitively answer the question 'Who is my neighbor?' with one word: Everyone."
Actions for the common good must recognize everyone's right to life, to work, to basic health services, and to basic education.
"Solidarity with our neighbor begins with listening and leads to action," they said. "Acting as sisters and brothers to those who are poor and marginalized, we journey with them as they seek solutions to their problems, address their challenges and take their rightful place in our communities."
Scripture and Catholic social teaching, which affirms public officials' authority in pursuing the common good, can help guide advocacy, the bishops said.
"Some things are best addressed by individuals, families, churches and charities; but when problems such as homelessness, hunger, drug addiction and mental illness are common to every community, it is a just and reasonable expectation that society will act cooperatively to address these problems," the bishops continued.
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Their listening sessions repeatedly heard of the need to ensure basic health care access, as well as the need for decent wages and educational opportunity.
These needs require initiative from public entities, the bishops said,
They voiced gratitude for services and programs to help those living in poverty, but they lamented that these are among the first to face budget cuts in times of revenue shortfall.
For Catholics, justice means "a special concern for people who are poor" and for the imperative to secure economic justice.
The bishops have created study materials for parishes and individual Catholics to help them confront poverty in Washington state and to explore "ways we can act as a community of faith to alleviate suffering and advocate for change."
"Pray for those living in poverty. Pray for the individuals and organizations who reach out in charity to the hungry, the homeless and all who lack basic necessities and are denied full participation in society," their letter encouraged Catholics. "Pray for those who advocate to break the cycle of poverty. Pray for our public officials, who bear the daunting task of establishing true economic justice for the citizens of our state."