Photo by Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss
A group of church goers gathers at Portland's Waterfront Park to speak out for the poor.
Photo by Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss
A group of church goers gathers at Portland's Waterfront Park to speak out for the poor.
As Occupy Portland protesters reconvened in mid November after being banned from two downtown parks, a group of church members held vigil on the city's waterfront to speak out for Americans who are homeless and hungry.

The group, which included priests and women religious, was praying to place what members called a “circle of protection” around the poor, especially while the congressional deficit Super Committee was in deliberations.

Signs read: "Budgets are moral documents. What do we value as a nation?"

The U.S. Catholic bishops urged the public to tell the now-defunct Super Committee that rising poverty at home and abroad requires protection for programs that serve poor and vulnerable people.

"Widespread unemployment, underemployment and pervasive poverty are diminishing human lives, undermining human dignity, and hurting children and families," New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan said in a talk to his brother bishops in Baltimore in early November. "I hope we can use our opportunities as pastors, teachers, and leaders to focus public attention and priority on the scandal of so much poverty and so many without work in our society."

The Portland protesters, inspired by Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, gave examples of ways governments can keep poverty at bay. John Kingery, a member of St. Juan Diego Parish, told the group that for about $765 per year, Medicaid-supported youth service provider Outside In can provide medical care for a homeless youth.

By contrast, a single trip to an emergency room on average costs about $1,900. Kingery said that if the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements were cut, Outside In would have to close its medical clinic.  

Manny Hotchkiss, a member of St. Pius X Parish, carried a sign saying, “In Solidarity with the poor” and “To Fix the Deficit - Reduce Military Spending.”

Robin Stephenson of anti-hunger group Bread For the World asked demonstrators to write the names of people or programs on orange slips of paper to be delivered to legislators' offices.

"The poorest people didn't create the budget deficit and so shouldn't pay for all of it," Stephenson said.

"The system is broken and the budget must not be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable among us,” said the Rev. Chuck Currie, a United Church of Christ minister.  

Matt Cato, director of the Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Life Justice and Peace, led the group in a closing prayer, using a poem by Walter Brueggemann.

"Turn our taking into giving," Cato read, "since we are in your giving image: Make us giving like you, giving gladly and not taking."