Published October 19, 2006
I spent a delightful Sunday morning at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Decatur confirming 14 wonderful young people. They were bright, energetic, and filled with such hope and promise that the entire ceremony was as much a source of encouragement for me as I pray it was for those fine young people and their families.
At the conclusion of the Mass, I went down to the parish hall to meet with the proud parents and the newly confirmed. A lovely lady stopped me and told me that she had wanted to speak with me for some time. I asked her regarding what issue. She said that she didn’t think the Archdiocese of Atlanta was focusing enough attention on the plight of the poor. She was right, of course—who ever spends enough time or resources on the many poor people who fill our world both locally and beyond?
I spent the rest of Sunday on and off again thinking about her observation. It was a thought-provoking consideration for me as the Archbishop since I am responsible before God for encouraging our people to attend to the needs of those who are the least of His sisters and brothers. My thoughts ranged through the many programs that we have at Catholic Charities, the compassionate outreach of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the generous special collections that we have taken up for the victims of disasters, the needs of those in mission lands, and the on-going relationships that parishes have with communities in some of the poorest regions of the world.
Yet poverty always manages to out-pace even our most generous responses.
Poverty wears many faces. The most notable expressions of poverty are found in the lives of those who stand on the side of expressway exits carrying signs that announce that they are hungry or homeless. Poverty is present when mothers must carry their children to public agencies seeking rent assistance or food vouchers. Poverty exhibits an aged face when it appears as an old person living alone on a fixed income with no one to visit him or perhaps even notice him. Poverty smirks at us when young men stand idle in parking lots looking for work all the while being tempted to peddle drugs. Poverty never seems to be without a new and forever expansive human wardrobe.
Yet poverty can also be concealed as spiritual reality—a loss of hope, a spirit of despondency that is as damaging to the human person as the lack of money. Young women who despair and seek to abort a child because they are afraid, ashamed or depressed are as poor as those mothers who beg on street corners, even though some of them may come from comfortable homes and backgrounds.
Poverty can be found in some of our most affluent families as children who have plenty of material possessions yet lack the warmth and support of the affection of parents who may give them many things—but overlook the comfort that an embrace, a word of encouragement, or simply their time provides for their children.
Poverty is a reality that knows few limits in the human condition, and none of us can ever completely ignore its presence. The Archdiocese of Atlanta is a growing, vibrant and fortunate community of Faith. We have so many of God’s blessings. We are also called to be ever attentive to those who lack our good fortune—whether materially or spiritually.
Our hearts can never grow so comfortable that there is no room for the needs of our neighbors who have not been so richly blessed. I’m glad that lady made that observation last Sunday. It gave me much food for thought!