The economic meltdown came upon Americans like the proverbial thief in the night. For decades, we have lived under the illusion that the U.S. economy is immune from instability and weakness. The past year has changed all that.
Vanishing 401(k) accounts, a 10 percent national unemployment rate, bank and business failures, frozen credit and a labile stock market have shaken our collective constants.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” John Lennon once opined.
In this season of Thanksgiving, when our corporate and household budgets already are tight and the forecast is for a slow economic recovery, I make this special appeal: Remember the poor.
Those who already were beset with poverty have gone from desperation to misery.
The medical director of our own mission in Guatemala, Sheila McShane, reports a marked increase in the number of persons unable to secure daily bread, find firewood or obtain medicine for their children. She and Father Jim Hazelton, pastor for the mission, have made special pleas to assist our Guatemalan brothers and sisters who have been affected directly by the financial crisis sweeping the globe.
Catholic Relief Services’ John Rivera reports that over the last year, a number of factors aligned to cause a dramatic spike in the price of food. Poor people, particularly those in urban areas, have suffered the most. In some places, drought compounded the situation. The hardships brought on by food shortages triggered riots in the cities of several nations.
On the local scene, Program Director Theresa Ortega at Good Samaritan Ministries in Helena reports a considerable increase in persons requesting help as they struggle with high food prices, and cold weather moves in. Theresa speaks about the changing profile of the poor—the working poor who are swallowing their pride and asking for help, and others who have faced months of unemployment, lost their homes and have joined the ranks of America’s poor.
Across the globe, the World Health Organization sounds a clarion call for developed nations to assist poorer countries battling hunger, chronic undernourishment, unclean water and the diseases related to those conditions.
According to the WHO, hunger is the major health risk globally, with 170 million children in poor countries suffering from daily malnutrition. The health organization has determined that 16,000 die from hunger-related causes each day.
This season of harvest will bring most of us together around a Thanksgiving table of plenty, in the company of loved ones. Thanksgiving brings with it special obligations to hear anew the cry of the poor.
As the holiday approaches, I make these simple requests:
Leave an empty chair at your Thanksgiving table, and set a place for the nameless, faceless poor as a way of reminding disciples of Christ that we have an obligation to assist, not from our surplus but from our substance.
Celebrate Thanksgiving Mass, raising heart and voice to God in gratitude for the blessings we have received but too often take for granted.
Be generous to international organizations that assist with the needs of the poor, but also help address the underlying causes of global poverty and human misery.
Make a special Thanksgiving donation to our own Guatemalan Mission, to Catholic Relief Services or to a food bank or other assistance program in your community.
Familiarize yourself with Catholic social teaching and the intimate connection between worship and justice, prayer and compassion, love of God and love of neighbor.
Prayerfully reflect on Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical letters, especially Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) and Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), available online (www.vatican.va – click on Holy Father, then Encyclicals).
Ensure that the prayers of the faithful at Mass raise up the plight of the poor and our obligation to assist as individuals, as parishes and as a diocese.
Cull your closets and donate warm clothing and blankets to local service agencies as cold weather approaches. Be generous to local food banks.
In this season of harvest and thanksgiving, we express our profound gratitude to our good and gracious God, for the blessings of faith, family, food and friendship. But we also stand in prayerful solidarity with the poor of our community, nation and world. “Remember Lord your people, especially those for whom we now pray.”
You may send donations to the following addresses or to a local group of your choice. Guatemala donations: Guatemala Missions, P.O. Box 1729, Helena, MT 59624-1729 or online at www.diocesehelena.org/guatemala.
Catholic Relief Services donations: Catholic Relief Services, 228 W. Lexington St., Baltimore, MD 21201-3413 or online at www.crs.org.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 25, No. 11, November 20, 2009.