CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On May 20 and 21, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston sponsored a Conference on Poverty at the Blessed John XXIII Pastoral Center in Charleston. It brought to life Bishop Bransfield's most recent pastoral letter: "Setting Children Free: Loosening the Bonds of Poverty in West Virginia" (dwc.org).
In Father Larry Snyder's keynote address, he emphasized that the time to think and act anew is now. Father Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, pointed out that the beauty offered by West Virginia "doesn't go with" its poverty. He stressed that while America offers a safety net for its poor, that our ultimate goal should be one of an offer of upward mobility out of poverty. A trampoline, if you will. We can assist and provide, but we must never lose sight of the challenge to help people get out of poverty.
In West Virginia, almost 30 percent of children under the age of 5 live below the poverty level. With "extreme poverty" defined as living on $30 a day for a family of four people, some 43,254 West Virginians under the age of 18 lived in such poverty in 2008.
And, as Father Snyder commented, "We have all felt the energy from Pope Francis emanate across the plains." Father Snyder went on to echo that it is that energy that will bring into the limelight not only the reality of poverty throughout the country, but the continual interlocking ingredient -- our shared faith. As a people of faith, 'we don't have a choice.' We simply serve."
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Bransfield highlights the remarkable job done by Catholic Charities West Virginia, co-sponsor with the diocese of the conference: "CCWVa does a remarkable job in serving tens of thousands throughout the State, responding to people's basic human needs of food, shelter, and clothing, while offering opportunities to improve an individual's or family's circumstances. As the second largest provider of direct services to the poor, after the State of West Virginia itself, the hard-working staff and volunteers of CCWVa are at work each day to alleviate poverty, distress, and injustice by providing comprehensive social services to the poor and vulnerable, advocating for social justice, and calling all people of good will, especially those of the Church, to service."
We are all called to rise to the occasion and draw from our innate compassion to help alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the downtrodden. We must not become, as Martin Luther King Jr. emphasized, one with "... the silence and indifference of the good people ..." We must, instead, engage in the active reduction and eventual elimination of the plight of the poor, especially its children.
As Father Snyder reminded us, "The face of the poor hasn't changed much throughout the history of the Church." In the end, we will still be judged by how we responded to "the widow, the orphan, the stranger in our midst."
Hubert Humphrey, borrowing from Thomas Jefferson, said, "The test of government will be how it treated its citizens in the dawn of their lives, the shadow of their lives, and in the twilight of their lives."
And the well-respected writer Max Lucado posed this question: "When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?"
Jacobs, of Charleston, is a freelance writer.