One of the reasons the U.S. bishops issued their recent statement on poverty was to provide a resource for parish leaders in their efforts to broaden and deepen the Church's commitment to charity and to social and economic justice. The bishops' new statement, A Place at the Table
, provides an opportunity to:
remind Catholics that central to our identity as disciples of Jesus Christ is our concern for those who are poor or suffering;
urge that as our nation debates its response to global terrorism and violence, we must not only consider military options, but also policy options that address suffering and build greater justice, good will, and peace among all people.
As you develop and carry out your plans for 2003 and beyond, we hope you will consider how A Place at the Table can be helpful to your work.
From Simple to Sophisticated—Parish strategies for sharing the message of A Place at the Table can be as simple as periodic bulletin quotes or as sophisticated as an ongoing education, service and advocacy program. Each parish can tailor its efforts to its particular needs and opportunities.
Bulletin Quotes —Including quotes from A Place at the Table periodically in the parish bulletin is simple but effective way to share the message with a wide range of parishioners.
Brochures—The brochure version of A Place at the Table provides an easy-to-read summary that can be handed out at many parishes events and educational programs.
Pledge Against Poverty —The Pledge to Help Break the Cycle of Poverty is a tool that encourages us to make a commitment to learn more and take action to combat poverty. It can be used by youth groups, religious education and sacramental preparation classes, small faith communities, and many other groups in the parish.
Parish-wide Strategy—In A Place at the Table, the bishops urge us to do more to "serve those in need, overcome poverty, and advance human dignity." They explain that "this mission is an essential part of what makes us disciples of Christ" (emphasis added). Helping Catholics understand and act on this essential mission is not simply the task of the parish social concerns committee. Just as the mission belongs to each and every believer, the task of sharing it belongs to each and every parish leader. Encourage those responsible for liturgy, preaching, religious education, the parish school, small faith communities, and other parish groups to develop a plan for incorporating this mission into their ministry. Resources for each area of ministry are available on this web site.
Educational Programs—In addition to incorporating this mission into all areas of parish ministry, you may want to consider sponsoring educational programs specifically on poverty at home and abroad. Invite a speaker from a group serving those who are poor or homeless in your community. Or invite someone who has recently returned from working in a developing nation. Your diocesan directors for Catholic Relief Services, Social Action, Catholic Charities, and Missions can help identify speakers. A variety of videos are also available that help illustrate the challenges of poverty in the United States and abroad.
Resource for Renew Groups—If your parish is going through the Renew process, you may want to use A Place at the Table as a resource for discussion and action during the third season. For groups that have already finished the Renew process, A Place at the Table can be a resource for follow-up activity.
Provide Opportunities to Act—Providing regular opportunities for parishioners to act in response to poverty makes it much easier for them and more likely that they will be able to live up to this important Gospel challenge. These opportunities should include both service to those with immediate needs and advocacy opportunities to advance economic and social justice. Parish leaders can provide information through the bulletin on local organizations that offer volunteer and advocacy opportunities. They can organize parish projects to provide a wide range of services to people in need. They can also organize a parish legislative network through which parishioners can receive information on key public policy issues related to justice and peace. Opportunities that can include the whole family are particularly helpful.
Contact Diocesan and State Social Ministry Leaders—Your state Catholic conference and your diocesan social ministry offices can provide excellent resources, programs, and support for your parish's efforts to respond to those who are poor and vulnerable. Contact them and learn what they have to offer.