PROVIDENCE — With more than 38 million people living in poverty in the United States, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development — which has served for nearly 50 years as the official domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — provides crucial assistance to community leaders who work to improve lives by expanding access to affordable housing, health care and education.
The CCHD raises public awareness about poverty, its causes and seeks to break the cycle in the U.S., by advocating for changes to structures that keep people in poverty, while also supporting the development of worker-owned businesses.
The annual collection, coordinated nationally by the USCCB, will be held in parishes across the nation this weekend, Nov. 23-24.
“The Catholic Campaign for Human Development draws us close to our brothers and sisters in Christ and works to address the root causes of poverty in the United States,” said Bishop David P. Talley of Memphis and chairman of the CCHD Subcommittee of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. “In doing so, we uphold the dignity of those who live in poverty and empower them through dialogue and solidarity.”
Pope Francis addressed the Church’s mission in helping the poor and disenfranchised to rise out of their situations in his statement for this year’s commemoration of the World Day of the Poor.
“The situation of the poor obliges us not to keep our distance from the body of the Lord, who suffers in them. Instead, we are called to touch his flesh and to be personally committed in offering a service that is an authentic form of evangelization,” Pope Francis said.
The collection is the primary source of funding for CCHD’s community and economic development grants, as well as its education programs aimed at raising awareness of poverty and fostering hope in communities across the nation. Twenty-five percent of funds collected remain in each diocese to support local anti-poverty projects, with the remainder being used by the USCCB to fund national programs.
This year, Fuerza Laboral, a Central Falls-based center for workers’ rights that seeks to shift the balance of power in the nation’s economy towards labor by educating, training and organizing workers to become community leaders who confront social injustice, was the recipient of a $75,000 CCHD grant from last year’s collection.
The grant is being used to support one of Fuerza Laboral’s programs which educates and guides local workers in establishing collective businesses as a way of improving their lives. Current participants in the program represent the communities of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Warwick and are working to develop construction, moving and catering cooperatives.
The organization is using these funds to support a cooperative business incubator, now going into its fourth year, and offers bilingual education in forming viable companies, according to Raul Figueroa, a community organizer with Fuerza Laboral.
“We use this money for everything that has to do with the business, especially for education programs, outreach and technical assistance, including the development of a strategic plan” Figueroa told Rhode Island Catholic.
“Knowing that the Catholic Church knows and understands the importance of providing these education programs and that these new entrepreneurship ideas are being validated and understood, it really helps us a lot and tells us we are moving in the right direction. It is really important.”
James Jahnz, supervisor of diocesan Catholic Social Services of R.I., said that the collection helps to empower members of the community to address the root causes of poverty where they live and work to better their lives.
“The CCHD program allows Catholics to join and help those in need improve their situations,” said Jahnz, who, along with a diocesan committee, assists the CCHD on a local level in the application process for organizations seeking grants.
The committee reviews each applicant before making a recommendation to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin as to which organization should receive each year’s CCHD grant from the funds collected.
Ian Mitchell, a USCCB grants specialist for the CCHD’s New England Region, told Rhode Island Catholic in an interview from his office in Washington, D.C., that the campaign is a key compliment to all of the great work that the Church does in terms of responding to people’s immediate needs in emergencies.
“It addresses the root causes of poverty and systems that keep people in poverty and allowing people who are themselves struggling with poverty to bring their wisdom and their gifts to the community and help find solutions,” Mitchell said.
“Unless we are addressing the causes of poverty and unless we are lifting up and developing leadership from the people affected by poverty, it’s going to be very hard to bring an actual, measurable and substantial long-term change to situations of poverty in the country.”