“A preferential option for the poor” is a fundamental concept in Catholic Social Teaching. Though the phrase itself is only 50 years old, it derives from Jesus’ Gospel message to pay special attention to poverty. Indeed, Jesus told us that on the Day of Judgment, God will ask us what we did for the poor, teaching, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
The concept is shared by many religions and has become part of the ethos of the United States. Whether through Social Security, Medicaid, Food Stamps, or foreign aid, our nation has recognized that our worth is judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us.
Our Church has always said that we fulfill our responsibility to the poor not only through personal charity, but also through our support for just governmental policies. So much of what our church does through agencies like Catholic Charities in the United States and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) overseas expresses this concept. The work of these agencies to serve the most vulnerable people depends on both private contributions and public support.
The U.S. Congress is now considering a budget proposal by the current administration. So many helped in this country and abroad would be devastated by this budget. I fully understand and support debate on the best way to help the poor in the long term and to raise them out of poverty to lives of dignity as God intended for us all. But I am having trouble reconciling the cuts in this budget with a concern for the poor.
Let me mention the impact of just one of these severe cuts. As a former board member of Catholic Relief Services, I know first-hand that the zeroing out of the budget food aid programs, as proposed in this budget, would be especially devastating to international aid. Right now in many developing countries, hundreds of thousands of kids get a nutritional meal every day at school because of the generosity of Americans. Sometimes that’s the reason they go to school. It’s a win-win situation: they get fed, and they get educated. They benefit. Their country benefits.
Let me tell you about one person who benefited. His name is Thomas Awiapo. His father died when he was a small boy. Farmed out to relatives, he was last in line for the small amount of food the family had. Siblings died from malnutrition.
Then he saw a boy carrying sorghum — a grain used mainly to feed cattle in the United States, but it looked pretty good to Thomas. He found out that the boy got the sorghum at school, so Thomas started going to school to ease his hunger. Along the way, he got an education. Years later with a master’s degree in his pocket, he started working for Catholic Relief Services, bringing the same relief he received to those who needed it.
I urge Congress to reject these severe cuts to poverty-focused national and international assistance. The inherent dignity of each human person compels us to help the poorest and most vulnerable at home and around the world. The United States’ track record of protecting human rights and helping the most vulnerable undergirds our moral leadership.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop of Louisville
24 May 2017
Article Credit: The Courier Journal