Stephen Kent

There is an ongoing war on the poor being waged in this nation, says Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.

“There is indeed a war on the poor, coinciding with and deepening the pain from a troubled economy. And that war is now the central, defining issue of American politics,” he recently wrote in The New York Times.

“There’s not much about fiscal responsibility, but there’s a lot about how the government is rewarding the lazy and undeserving,” he wrote.

On the front lines of this war, defending the poor, is the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. As regular as turkey and football on Thanksgiving, this time of year brings criticism of that agency for doing what the church should be about.

Some comes from a simple misunderstanding. It is a not the Catholic campaign for handouts, but for development: to develop is to empower.

The agency’s mission is “to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations and through transformative education.”

It is not similar to giving assistance to victims after a massive natural disaster. It is meant to change the system and that leads to a certain amount of discomfort.

Community organizing is about power and power engenders fear. Some feel the poor should accept their place and gladly accept assistance to cope with their miserable lot in life rather than to change what brings about poverty.

So many, myself included, are satisfied to use agents to carry out our responsibility rather than to directly encounter the poor. It is efficient and avoids encounter. Programs such as CCHD now have a strong advocate in high places. There’s a new sheriff in town. Get used to the new reality.

Pope Francis is saying writing checks isn’t enough. It is necessary to be closer to the disenfranchised and the poor. Even though Pope Francis is very close to his family, as archbishop of Buenos Aires he would often skip their barbecues to spend Sundays or holidays with the poor, the pope’s sister said in an interview. His priority was the neediest in his archdiocese, which meant he often spent Sundays or holidays in the city’s shantytowns instead of attending the family “asado” or barbecue, she said.

We look to some agents to implement our charity and so it should be. We all can’t go to the storm-ravaged Philippines and offer direct assistance. But we can go to a soup kitchen and look the poor in the face (in addition to making financial contributions).

If the central defining issue of American politics is the attitude toward the poor, as Krugman says, that is where the church in the United States belongs. Right now.

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Kent is the retired editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. Contact him at: considersk@gmail.com.