“Among our tasks as witnesses to the love of Christ is that of giving a voice to the cry of the poor.”
—Pope Francis, Address to the Archbishop of Canterbury, July 2013
Whether you are new to direct involvement in social ministry or you are practiced in addressing social issues, it’s clear that God calls us to go beyond writing a check to help others.
Indeed, the United States Congress of Catholic Bishops urges us to give direct aid to those in need. We are encouraged to look at the problems facing our communities and ask why those issues exist. When we perform social service – giving alms to the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick or imprisoned – we are helping to solve the issue.
The bishops mandate areas of responsibility, including domestic policy and advocacy, Catholic social teaching education, outreach to dioceses and Catholic social mission organizations.
Still, once we decide to act, how can our families work on these issues together?
“Charity is a safe engagement when it’s just loving another person,” notes Greg Walgenbach, director of the Diocese of Orange Office of Life, Justice and Peace. “Justice is what love looks like in public.”
Many Catholics fear social action because they think it will lead to political involvement outside their faith, Walgenbach explains. “We are OK doing that if we have deep concerns, but especially in the areas where Church teaching challenges our views, we must wrestle with it. Social justice challenges our own faith; it challenges us to be more like Christ.”
Some social actions can help us ease into the idea of acting directly, he notes, such as a recent National Call-in Day, where volunteers contacted legislators in support of the DACA dreamers. “Certainly, that is something we can do as a family,” he says. “There are ways that families can learn about social justice and grow in that together.”
Walgenbach refers people to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which is the national anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. The CCHD works, as it says in Luke: 4:18, to carry out the mission of Jesus Christ “… to bring good news to the poor… release to captives… sight to the blind and let the oppressed go free.”
“The belief that those who are directly affected by unjust systems and structures have the best insight into knowing how to change them is central to CCHD,” the website says. “CCHD works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities. CCHD offers a hand up, not a hand out.”
Giving to local and national anti-poverty programs and volunteering time and energy in support of the poor and vulnerable are powerful ways to live our faith, Walgenbach notes.
“Supporting the National Needs Collection at our parishes in November allows us to give directly to justice,” he adds. “I tell folks to look for organizations that are thinking beyond the day-do-day to do systemic change.” One such organization, the Illumination Foundation, began to address homelessness, but has gone further to help change the systems of care.
“We must take steps to help kids put in time to benefit justice,” Walgenbach says. “We can bring it home for them – how can they advocate for justice in their schools? They can stand up for kids who’ve been bullied and point out the bullying problem to school administrators. Or they can get together with other classmates to address the food served in their school by creating a campus garden full of vegetables.”