By Stephen Kent
Catholic News Service

The Lord hears the cry of the poor, the psalms tell us, and now, so will Congress and the White House as the 2012 federal budget process gets under way.

The Circle of Protection, a coalition of more than 40 religious leaders, intends to represent the poor while proposals to cut spending to meet the deficit growth swirl around the Capital.

“The poor don’t have powerful political voices speaking on their behalf so we are speaking on their behalf,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif. “We want to be a strong moral voice that speaks for the common good and those who are most poor.” {{more}}

Bishop Blaire is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. The nation’s bishops also spoke up for the voiceless.

“The moral measure of this budget debate is not which party wins or which powerful interests prevail, but rather how those who are jobless, hungry, homeless or poor are treated,” they wrote in a letter to each U.S. senator. “Their voices are too often missing in these debates, but they have the most compelling moral claim on our consciences and our common resources.”

The expressions by the religious leaders are a bit gentler than that of John Berger, a British art critic and novelist.

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied … but written off as trash. The 20th-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”

Our obligation to the preferential option for the poor is not some political platform dreamed up in the 21st century.

Encyclicals and pastorals on the economy over the past 100 years are not optional, said a prominent labor leader.

They are the “modern expression of an unbroken line that stretches from the Book of Genesis, throughout the Old Testament, to the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself,” said John Sweeney, president emeritus of the AFL-CIO, in a keynote address at a conference marking the 120th anniversary of “Rerum Novarum,” an encyclical on capital and labor.

Those of the Circle of Protection and others recognize that not much will happen until there is action.

Not a matter of issues or policy statement, it requires engagement as Bishop Blaire said: “What we have done here is lift up the voice. It’s really up to us in our local churches to engage the needs of the poor.”

In other words, it is up to us to make a beggar a reminder of something. That something is our obligation to the poor.

Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle. He can be contacted at: