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11/11/2012 11:15:00 AM
Church's anti-poverty campaign explained
Archdiocese of Portland photo
Matt Cato explains the power of collective action.
Archdiocese of Portland photo
Matt Cato explains the power of collective action.

One in six Americans lives in poverty. For children, it's almost one in four.

That was one of the sobering messages at an evening sponsored last month by the Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Life, Justice and Peace. The event — called “An Evening of Solidarity and Empowerment” — highlighted community organizations funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. church's anti-poverty effort.   

In the U.S., the officially poor are those who earn less than the federal government's income threshold — $22,314 for a family of four. That includes people working at minimum wage, even holding down several jobs, and seniors living on fixed incomes. Also in the category are wage earners suddenly out of work. It all adds up to millions of families in both cities and rural communities.

"Living in poverty means one impossible choice after another — between food and medicine, getting to work or paying the heating bill, covering the rent or daycare for your children," says Matt Cato, director of the office.

Cato says the CCHD funds community organizations that support self-sufficiency, improve communities and encourage independence. It's all meant to help break the cycle of poverty and help people move themselves out of poverty. A collection for the fund is set for Catholic parishes the weekend of Nov. 17-18.

The evening at the archdiocese's pastoral center highlighted the call of being in solidarity with those who are economically disadvantaged. Speakers encouraged individuals to volunteer with an organization that moves them. Participating organizations included Community Alliance of Tenants, New City Initiative, Ecumenical Ministry of Oregon’s Interfaith Food and Farm Partnerships, VOZ, and Hacienda Community Development Corporation.

CCHD, a program of the U.S. Catholic bishops, calls on Catholics to pursue justice by challenging unjust systems. Charitable works and human services, while necessary, help the poor survive within the system. Community development organizations, by contrast, work to change the system. Economic development organizations work to create alternatives to the system.

The evening began with an overview of the CCHD grant program. It's structured to invest in the development of people in poverty. Projects seek to eliminate root causes of poverty, enact institutional change, produce assets, boost wealth or create jobs. Projects receiving grants must benefit those in poverty and involve them in decision making.

"CCHD is concerned about the growth, development, and dignity of the individual person as well as the collective strengthening of the low-income community," Cato says. "Skills building and training increases the skills of individual low-income leaders as persons. This is empowering."

The evening’s conversation turned to relationships, and how it is through relationships that individuals can create a just society.

Cato says the Catholic Church gives the grants because of who Catholics are, not because of who the organizations are. But CCHD does require that organizations avoid participation in and promotion of activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Cato knows CCHD can't fund every deserving community organization. He urged parishioners to give year-round support.

"Solidarity with our brothers and sisters and empowering those in poverty does not fit into one evening a year," he says. "Solidarity and empowerment is a life-long journey."

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