Lenten focus is moral issue of poverty

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A call to cut child poverty in America by half by 2017 was issued last week.

This call came not from a politician seeking higher office nor from social welfare advocates but from a coalition of 36 churches and Christian organizations whose members gathered at the first official meeting of Christian Churches Together in the USA. In their bold call to eliminate childhood poverty, they stated: "The scandal of widespread, persistent poverty in this rich nation must be called by its real names: moral failure, unacceptable injustice."

This prophetic call has set the tone for this new organization that includes representatives of the Catholic Church, Orthodox Church, mainline and Evangelical Protestant churches. More than 150 members gathered for the inaugural meeting in Pasadena, Calif., last week where they discussed a variety of issues of common concern including poverty, racism, evangelization, education, and the strengthening of families in our nation. The group has pledged itself to strengthening ties between churches in an effort "to strengthen our Christian witness in the world."

We applaud this effort by Christian churches to work together in engaging and challenging the world with the message of Jesus Christ. Their call to eliminate childhood poverty is evidence of how churches can work together to address the serious moral issues of our time. It is a message that must be carried to local churches and individual Christians if a full-scale effort to redress the serious social ills that plague our nation is to take place.

Yesterday the Christian Church began the solemn season of Lent that calls Christians to pray, fast and give alms. The call by the Christian Churches Together in the USA to challenge the persistent and widespread poverty that afflicts many in our affluent American society should cause all Christians to pause and reconsider their own role in eliminating poverty.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his annual Lenten Message, said, "Let us live Lent then, as a 'eucharistic' time in which, welcoming the love of Jesus, we learn to spread it around us with every word and deed. Contemplating 'him whom they have pierced' moves us in this way to open our hearts to others, recognizing the wounds inflicted upon the dignity of the human person; it moves us, in particular, to fight every form of contempt for life and human exploitation and to alleviate the tragedies of loneliness and abandonment of so many people.... That each day we, in turn, must 'regive' to our neighbor, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need."

Let Christians together in the USA conform their gaze toward Christ as they pray, fast and give alms this Lent. Let us all gaze upon the poor and crucified Christ who is present in our brothers and sisters living in poverty.

(This editorial originally appeared in The Providence Visitor)