Archive for Poverty

Why I Sit and Eat with our Guests: A Reflection on Breaking Bread at Holy Family House

by Rachel Hoffman

Thursday, January 20, 2011

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

As Christians, we strive to follow in the example of Jesus during the Last Supper – as he shared himself deeply in the breaking of the bread.  I am bold in saying that we attempt to the do same during supper time at Holy Family House.  We spend hours planning menus, sorting food, rinsing fruit and veggies, cooking meals, serving meals, and enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Indeed, our work centers on this sacred act of eating- this is how we recognize each other.  I have learned that sharing a common meal, sitting down face to face with a volunteer or guest, is the easiest way to see Christ in another.  This is when I hear about a new job or place to stay, an ill friend or relative, worries and joys.

But we are at Holy Family House to serve, right?  There isn’t enough food to go around, is there?  I have food at home, can’t I just wait till I get home?  I’m so different than the guests, will we have anything to talk about?  I feel guilty about how much I have and how little the guests have, isn’t it just easier to keep my distance?  Whatever your reasons are- we ask that you take a leap of faith with us and join in the breaking of the bread.  Listening is a form of ministry, there’s plenty of food to go around, just take some salad and sit down if you’re not hungry, and we promise there are plenty of things that you have in common with anyone who walks through our door—we are all human after all!

We at Holy Family House are hoping that people from all walks of life can build relationships with one another, understand in little ways how we each think and feel, enjoy each other’s company and in the words of co-founder Dorothy Day; “build a new society out of the old.”  This means doing things differently than we have in the past, sharing resources and time, and interacting in new ways.

So please, humor us- take a break from serving and sit down in our dining room during supper time.  Strike up a conversation, or eat slowly in silence.  Just be with us and our guests in a new way.   We look forward to breaking bread with you soon.

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?”  Corinthians 10:16





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High Interest Rates Drain Local Wealth

By:  Molly Fleming-Pierre

Communities Creating Opportunity Policy and Development Director

“On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act.   One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they journey on life’s highway.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Every day, thousands of families in Missouri struggle to stretch their wages across mounting bills.  Times are tough, within our faith communities we are finding too many families who lack the income to meet their basic needs.  In these difficult times, social service agencies, church emergency assistance funds, and food banks are all but tapped out.  As the financial woes for our working families mount, many Missourians turn to high interest credit, like payday and car title loans, to meet their short term credit needs.

Payday loans are small, short-term loans that are secured by a borrower’s personal check.  Payday loans typically cost $17 for every $100 borrowed and must be repaid in full before the borrower’s next payday—which translates to an annual percentage rate (APR) of 445% for a two-week loan, meaning that many borrowers pay more in fees than they actually borrow. For a “typical” payday loan in Missouri, a borrower completes eight back-to-back transactions before fully repaying an average loan of $300. This accrues $410 in interest fees.

These loans cause a predatory cycle of debt that traps our families into a spiral of recurring high interest fees. Exorbitant interest rates on payday loans ensnare our struggling families into spirals of debt so usurious that a $300 loan for the month’s groceries typically ends up costing our families a whopping $710.[1]  With these rates, the average borrower pays more in interest than the original loan amount.  The triple-digit interest rate is a product of the payday loan’s very unfair design: a loan that is due in full, plus interest and fees, in two short weeks and is secured by access to a family’s banking account.

These high cost loans don’t reflect the family values of our communities, and they dishonor the old adage that hard work and persistence create prosperity.  Even individuals who are able to repay their astronomical payday and car title loan debts are unable to build credit as these lenders refuse to report positively to credit agencies.  Small dollar, high interest borrowers are therefore trapped in a financial subclass that does not allow them to maintain income or build wealth.

There are now over one thousand payday lenders in Missouri, not to mention the hundreds of car title lenders and pawnshops.  That’s more than McDonald’s and Starbucks combined.  While these loans are marked as a short term fix for unexpected expenses, they tend to trap people in debt.  Because the loans (and fees) are due in full within two weeks to a month, the borrower is forced to come up with a sizeable amount of cash in a short time.

Especially in these difficult economic times, we know that Missouri families deserve better.  In order for lending to build assets in our communities, lending products must abide by a fair interest rate.  As an interfaith community, we are building a grassroots base to outlaw the triple digit interest rates that cause the debt rap.  Lowering the APR to a reasonable figure, like 36 percent APR can be accomplished by either lowering the fees charged, or by giving families more time to repay the loan.  In either case, it means a family will be given a fighting chance to succeed, rather than being ensnared in a product that by its very terms makes it almost certain the family will fail.

This month as we celebrate the life and the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we are called to “transform the Jericho Road so that men and women and not constantly beaten and robbed along life’s highway.”  The Jericho Road in Missouri is broken.  Our rural, suburban, and city roads across the state run rampant with predatory lenders that charge triple digit interest, robbing our families of the wages they need to survive.  Faith community efforts are critical to freeing our neighbors from the payday debt trap.  Religious and community groups throughout the state are building a movement to Cap the Rate on these triple-digit interest products.  Visit or to learn how you can get involved.  Together, we can transform the Jericho Road.

[1] The average payday borrower in Missouri has 8 loans each year, most often taken out in back-to-back transactions. They therefore pay $48 in fees eight times, or $384, for what is essentially the original $290 line of credit. These data are from the Center for Responsible Lending.


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Pequeña Comunidad: The road to New Hope in El Salvador

Editor’s Note:  December 2 marked the 31st Anniversary of the 4 U.S. Churchwomen in El Salvador.  We remember these brave women who were brutally murdered in El Salvador in 1980.  In their honor, you are invited to reflect on what Pat Marrin has written.  May it speak to your heart.  It is reprinted from The SHARE Foundation: Building a New El Salvador Today Churchwomen Commemoration Guide – 2010


by Pat Marrin, National Catholic Worker Reporter and 2010 Romero Delegation to Nueva Esperanza, El Salvador Participant

The road to Nueva Esperanza is dusty and rutted, a bumpy ride for the old pickup truck Gigi Gruenke drove to San Carlos to get me. She knows the roads well from her six years in El Salvador, from 2001 to 2007, as a Maryknoll lay volunteer working with the sisters of the Pequeña Comunidad (“Little Community”) in the Baja Lempa region of the country.  She is back to visit and has offered to help me tell the story of the sisters as part of NCR’s coverage of El Salvador 30 years after the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980.

Nueva Esperanza (“New Hope”) has 140 families and is one of the last towns along the Lempa, the country’s main river, which winds snakelike from the Honduran border and empties into the estuaries along Pacific coast 10 miles south of here.  We negotiate around some cattle. A young girl and her brother hitched a ride in the back of the truck when we stopped at a market to pick up 42 eggs. A week of celebrating Monseñor Romero has kept the Pequeña Comunidad sisters busy feeding visitors.

I hold the four stacked cardboard trays tied with string. My arms flex to cushion the eggs at each bump. The children in back sway and hang onto the pipe frame above the truck bed. El Salvador is a place where metaphors spring to mind to help interpret fragile realities. I recall Scott Wright’s story about what it was like to be in the country during its brutal civil war. An activist from Washington, D.C., he had come down in the early 1980s to work in the refugee camps on the Honduran border, then slipped into the country to accompany the thousands of terrified people hiding out in the hills from the helicopter gunships and army patrols. During a stop to rest in the jungle, a woman handed him her baby to hold while she went off to do something. This was El Salvador. If you came here you were entrusted with something precious.

We drop off our riders and park the truck next to the sisters’ walled compound. The town exhibits a rustic simplicity that is also another name for poverty. Across El Salvador, from the urban sprawl in the capital to the tiny cantons in the mountains accessible only on foot, people are living on the edge. Even 18 years after the 1992 peace accords, political divisions and vast inequities still reflect a lack of resources throughout the country, but especially in areas held by the rebels during the war.  Malnutrition, no funds for schools or health clinics, and unemployment are forcing young people to head north or join the gangs that pervade even the rural areas.

Accompanying the people

This is where the sisters of the Pequeña Comunidad live and minister to a network of 47 surrounding communities. Their style is immersion with the people and their objective is empowerment. They catechize, do sacramental preparation, counsel ordinary ministry but with a bottom-up approach made popular 40 years earlier after the Second Vatican Council and the emergence of Christian base communities that emphasized the role of the laity in the church.  We enter the compound where Srs. Nohemy Ortíz, Hortencia Preza and Valentina Pérez join us in a large, covered courtyard with plastic chairs arranged in a circle, an all-purposespace for meetings, meals and prayer. At one end is a garden sculpture of a seated Romero.

Ortíz has been with the community for most of its 40 years. She says that it was “formed in the womb of the Christian base communities” where lay men and women were trained to conduct Bible study in the many outlying villages visited only rarely by priests. The grassroots vitality of the base community experience attracted young people to the church. Many young women who wanted to commit their lives to service but did not feel called to traditional convent life sought a new form of religious life among the poor. In 1970, the “Little Community” was formed. The sisters did not wear religious habits and did not seek formal status under church law.

Ortíz says that as many as 50 people, both men and women, were involved with the community, but that its vowed membership never exceeded 15. Today, there are a total of eight sisters: the three serving in the Baja Lempa area; two sisters, Ana Beatriz Landaverde and Maria Isabel Figueroa,  serving in San Salvador; and three others, Anna María Barriento, Yulma Bonilla and Carmen Elena Hernández, in Morazán. Two North Americans, St. Joseph Sr. Elena Jaramilla from Orange, California and Providence Sr. Frances Stacy from Spokane, Washington also work with the sisters.

“We never thought of ourselves as an institute or congregation,” Ortíz says. “We were committed to Jesus of Nazareth as his followers and disciples. Rather than take traditional vows to a superior or to a bishop, we take our vows before the people.”

Not having canonical status is outweighed, she says, by the freedom to go where the people need them, and to be prophetic in pursuing justice, even when this is difficult or controversial.

Preza tells of her path to the community; since childhood she had felt a desire to serve but her mother had discouraged her from considering the brown-habited nuns they saw in church. “I joined a choir and youth group where I met Nohemy and some of the other sisters. They didn’t wear habits and I wondered how they could be sisters,” she says. But the more she came to know them and their work with the people, the more she felt called to accompany them. She made her vows in 1989, while the war was still going on. She was 24 years old. “The church became real to me,” she says.

Pérez describes her childhood devotion to her family, but says that she knew she wanted to reach out to others and thought she needed to join the convent to do this. She met Preza, who was holding weekly meetings at her church. “I realized I could dedicate myself to God without going far away to do it. Nohemy kept asking me, ‘When do you want to join us? Come, the door is open.’ ”

Pérez read her vows publicly in 2006. She says that one of the things she values is the sisters’ freedom to reach out to all religious sects and faiths, as Romero had done.

Option for the poor

In its early years, the new community took inspiration from the 1968 Latin American bishops’ meeting in Medellín, Colombia, where the phrase “God’s option for the poor” was first uttered officially. A new spirit took hold in Latin America, challenging the traditional alignment of the church with wealth and power. In both urban and rural areas, Bible study led to analysis of the causes of poverty, unjust labor practices and land distribution, and the treatment of people by the police and military. Those in power, threatened by growing pressures for reform, accused some priests of being communists, including two Belgian priests who have worked closely with the Pequeña sisters, Frs. Pedro Declercq and Rogelio Ponseele. The struggle pitted conservative bishops tied to the wealthy and the military against the popular church led by Romero, who struggled unsuccessfully to hold both church and nation together toavert civil war, which broke out in 1981.

The image of the martyred Silvia Maribel Arriola is carried in this year’s commemoration march honoring El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero. The Pequeña sisters, vowed to accompany the people, were caught up in the conflict. One member, Sr. Silvia Maribel Arriola, who made her vows with the group in 1975, is revered as one of El Salvador’s most beloved martyrs. She came to the community because of her desire to serve Jesus in the poor and through her friendship with Ortíz. Arriola was Romero’s personal secretary from 1977 until his assassination in 1980. A nurse, she was with a group of 97 refugees killed by the army on Jan 17, 1981. She was 29 years old. The bodies were doused in gasoline and burned to destroy evidence of the civilian massacre, one of 200 documented from the war.

The sisters say they continue to look to Romero for inspiration. Preza and Pérez cite his defense of human rights as the greatest challenge. For Ortíz, Romero remains a model of prophet, teacher and pastor. “He gives us spiritual eyes to see so we can continue to build the reign of God,” she says.  “He is now a risen in the people.

“Everyone wants him to be canonized, but not just as an object of devotion, someone to light candles to. He lived his life in total faithfulness during a very crucial moment in El Salvador’s history. We will honor him by living as he did, saying what he said. And that is not so easy.”

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Deficit Reduction Committee Members Were Right to Reject Dangerous Plans

Statement by Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, November 22, 2011.

We applaud members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction who stood firm and ultimately rejected cuts that would harm Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamp beneficiaries. We thank those who opposed still more tax giveaways to millionaires and insisted that fair revenue increases had to be part of any emerging plan to cut the deficit.

A bad plan would have been worse than no plan – and some very bad plans were put forward. These included a $643 billion Republican proposal that would have resulted in just $3 billion in tax increases from ending tax breaks on corporate jets. Democrats were right to reject this proposal, which reportedly cut $216 billion in domestic appropriations. The plan once again targeted programs that serve low- and moderate-income families, such as education, job training, housing and public health, while asking nothing of upper-income Americans.

Likewise, Democrats were correct to take a pass on a proposal by Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) that contained $250 billion in net new tax revenue but masked a large low-to-middle-income tax increase, with almost all of the new revenue paid right back out in tax cuts disproportionately benefiting millionaires and billionaires. The plan, which also would have made the Bush tax cuts permanent, amounted to a massive tax decrease for those at the top, while those lower down the economic ladder would have paid with higher taxes and cuts to Medicare and other critical programs.

The public overwhelmingly supports closing tax loopholes and increasing taxes on the wealthy and corporations to reduce the deficit. It also opposes cuts that negatively affect Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries. In a poll this month by Lake Research Partners/Tarrance Group poll of swing states, 89 percent of those surveyed said they were either strongly or somewhat in favor of closing tax loopholes to make the tax code fairer and 66 percent supported increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations. In contrast, only 19 percent favored making hundreds of millions of dollars in beneficiary cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

The best way to reduce the deficit is to get people back to work, buying goods and services and paying taxes.  The Joint Select Committee should have approved a plan with job creation initiatives in the short term, followed once the economy strengthens by tax increases and spending cuts that spare low-income and vulnerable people from harm. Extending the federal Unemployment Insurance (UI) program for the long-term unemployed is must-pass legislation for Congress before federal UI expires in December. Abandoning the jobless with unemployment stuck at 9 percent would be unthinkably cruel and a severe blow to the economy.

Regrettably, too many members remained intransigently opposed to such a sensible and productive plan. They insisted instead on service and benefit cuts that would weaken our economy and jeopardize our future, while shifting the tax burden so that the rich benefit even more. Over the coming years, such a plan would leave more of our young people unprepared for employment, more of our population lacking health care and more of our seniors economically insecure. The members of the Joint Select Committee who rejected that approach should feel proud of their success in staving off a dangerous course of action.

The Coalition on Human Needs (CHN) is an alliance of national organizations working together to promote public policies which address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations. The Coalition conducts analyses of federal budget proposals and policies to determine their impact on people in need. The Coalition’s members include civil rights, religious, labor and professional organizations and those concerned with the wellbeing of children, women, the elderly and people with disabilities. CHN is located at 1120 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 312, Washington, D.C. 20036. For more information please visit

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ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Occupy Wall Street and Catholic Social Teaching

Posted on October 25, 2011 by paxchristiusa

By Tony Magliano

The Occupy Wall Street movement has a powerful ally in Catholic social teaching! Recently I became more convinced of this truth after spending a couple of hours with the Occupy Baltimore segment of this now global movement. In front of Baltimore’s pricey Inner-Harbor, I encountered a small tent city ranging from homeless persons to college graduates. Four of them talked with me about why they are there. In the shadow of a skyscraper with huge bold words Bank of America on it, one of the occupiers pointed to it and said “they, and the many other greedy corporations like them, control most of the wealth, while so many of the rest of us have so little.”

Since the federal government’s bailout of the mega banks and various other large companies, corporate profits have risen to an all time high. And yet, many pay little or no taxes. Hedge fund managers and CEO’s are raking in millions, while huge numbers of families continue to lose their homes, 14 million people remain unemployed, and 50 million have no health insurance and a record 46 million Americans live in poverty – including 16 million children!

Another occupier cited Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz’s eye-opening calculation that the richest one percent of Americans now own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. And that the gap between the rich and the rest of us – especially the poor – is wider now than at any time since the Great Depression! The occupiers unanimously agreed that with this tremendous concentration of wealth comes a tremendous concentration of power. Wealthy corporations, with their large campaign contributions, wield considerable influence with Congress and executive branch, whereas the shrinking middle-class and poor have very little influence with America’s policy makers.

Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed very strong words to these “structures of sin.” He said, “The all-consuming desire for profit, and … the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others” is opposed to the will of God! The Catholic social teaching principle known as “the universal destination of the earth’s resources” insists that all people deserve a fair share of creation and the goods of humankind – certainly to the point of having each person’s basic needs entirely met. Pope Paul VI taught that God intends for everyone to adequately share in the goods of the earth, and that all other rights must be subordinated to this truth!

American society’s failure to fulfill this ethical principle is a moral indictment against most of Washington’s politicians, corporate America and liberal capitalism – which highly favors those with wealth and power at the painful expense of those with little or none. Blessed John Paul said the human inadequacies of capitalism are far from disappearing.

So much of America’s political and economic system is unjust. And yet for the most part, Catholics are silent. Silence supports the rich and powerful, never the poor and weak! But Catholic social teaching calls us to speak up for the poor and weak. So let us raise our voices together with our courageous brothers and sisters of the Occupy movement. Demand that our do-little Congress significantly raise taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, drastically cut military spending, stop the wars, create millions of public service jobs, give small businesses – especially green energy companies – job-producing financial assistance, extend the efficiency of Medicare to everyone, pass strong anti-sweatshop legislation and greatly increase poverty-focused assistance to the nation’s and world’s poor!

Tony Magliano is a Catholic News Service columnist whose work appears in diocesan papers throughout the United States. If your diocesan paper does not carry his column, we encourage you to call them and request that they do.

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Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change

Briefing Paper by Maria Riley, OP

As we approach Thanksgiving and World Food Day, let us reflect on pervasive hunger that haunts many in our global community.  The Global Women’s Project at the Center of Concern in Washington, D.C. has just issued a briefing paper for our consideration.  In “Facing the Future: Hunger and Climate Change” by Maria Riley, OP, we learn that the 2011 World Hunger and Poverty Statistics identifies multiple causes of persistence of hunger in the world. Poverty is the principal cause and harmful economic conditions and systems drive poverty and hunger. Conflict compounds hunger and poverty among refugees and internally displaced populations. Climate change is increasingly identified as a current and future cause of hunger and poverty. Add to these immediate causes the fact that governments and international agencies have neglected agriculture relevant to people in poverty for the past 20 to 30 years with the advent of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programs in the Global South.

Maria Riley considers hunger and poverty reduction, environmental issues, agroecology and organic food movements, future sustainability, and actions others can undertake.  She provides resources from which she drew her information.  To read her complete briefing paper, go here.  Click on Briefing Paper 8 World Food PDF contained in the attachment box on this page.

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Poverty — How Long Could You Hang On?

By:  Jeanne Christensen, RSM

The basis for all that is believed about the moral dimension of economic life is its vision of the transcendent worth – the sacredness – of human beings, created in the image of God.  Whenever our economic arrangements fail to conform to the demands of human dignity, they must be questioned and transformed…God is described as a God of justice.  The justice of a community is measured by the treatment that is extended to the powerless in society.  At the beginning of the New Millennium, the poverty of billions of men and women is the one issue that most challenges our human and Christian consciences.

Poverty poses a dramatic problem of justice…In its various forms and with   its various effects, it is characterized by an unequal growth that does not recognize the equal right of all people to take their seat at the table of the common banquet.  Such poverty makes it impossible to bring about the full humanism…which the people of faith hope for and pursues so that all persons may be more and live in conditions that are  more human.

Social justice demands of us:  action to promote the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all,  a preferential option for and love of the poor, and seeing the poor not as a problem, but as people who can become the principal builders of a new and more human future for everyone.

Here are some facts about poverty.  In 2010, 46.2 million people lived in poverty in the U.S.  This is 15.1% of our population and is an increase from 43.6 million in 2009 and 39.8 million in 2008.   This is more people than live in our most highly populated state – California.

Poverty has increased in all racial groups.   For white persons the increase is from 9.45% in 2009 to 2.9% in 2010.  Only 8.6% of white persons were considered poor in 2008.  For all black persons, 27.4% were considered poor in 2010 while 25.8% were poor in 2009 and 24.7% were poor in 2009.  The percentage of Hispanic poor was slightly less than that for black persons.  In 2010, 26.6% were poor while in 2009, 25.3% were poor and 23.2% were poor in 2009.  For Asians, 12.2% were poor in 2010, down 0.4% from 2009 but up from 11.6% in 2008.

Children in poverty did not fare well.  Their poverty rose from 18.5% in 2008 to 20.1% in 2009 and to 22.0% in 2010.    If they live in a family headed by a woman, their statistics are a scandal at 40.7% in 2010, up from 38.5% in 2009 or 37.2% in 2008.

The U.S. Census Bureau defines poor families as those with cash incomes, before tax deductions, of less than $22.314 a year for a family of four.  Yet, many poor families with children have family members who work.  These are the families that often “fall through the cracks” and cannot participate in programs designed to assist the most vulnerable.   Of grave concern now are the efforts of lawmakers to cut the programs that service those most in need in our society.  We are called to speak out, to advocate on their behalf.

We can conclude that this year’s 46.2 million poor people comprise the highest number of Americans living in poverty since 1960, poverty continues to be higher for racial and ethnic minorities, children remain disproportionately poor, child poverty is becoming more harsh, and children’s poverty rose from 20.7% in 2009 to 22.0% in 2010.  It was 19% in 2008.  Now, one in four children lives in poverty.   

“If poor children were not hidden from most of us — if they could look us in the eye — we would not allow their hardships to continue.”   (Deborah Weinstein, Coalition on Human Needs, Washington, D.C.)


Statistics from U.S. Census Bureau Report, September 13, 2011

The Coalition on Human Needs, Washington, D.C.

A Concise Guide to Catholic Social Teaching, p. 48

Compendium of the    Social Doctrine of the Church, #449

Photo by by ninasaurusrex

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