USCCB, CRS seek 1 million Catholics for global poverty initiative

WASHINGTON – Catholics across a broad spectrum of the church are being mobilized in a renewed effort to fight global poverty.

Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are seeking 1 million Catholics during the next two years to join an initiative designed to show that the difficulties Americans are facing during the current financial crisis are intricately intertwined with the plight of the poor around the world.

The effort, Catholics Confront Global Poverty, is tied to Pope Benedict XVI’s World Peace Day message of Jan. 1 in which he called for humanity to work toward greater human dignity through the promotion of peace and international aid that promotes human development, said Stephen Colecchi, director of the U.S. bishop’s Office of International Justice and Peace.

“Our future is linked to theirs. Our security is linked to theirs. Our prosperity is linked to theirs,” Mr. Colecchi told a nationwide webcast Feb. 11.

Colecchi joined Bill O’Keefe, senior director in the advocacy department at CRS, in announcing the initiative, which will be launched during the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington Feb. 23.

Both agencies have worked side by side in a global anti-poverty campaign in recent years, but see new opportunities in which policy initiatives that promote human development are welcomed by the incoming administration of President Barack Obama and members of the 111th Congress.

“We want to respond to the call of the Holy Father and respond to our brothers and sisters around the world who as a result of the global economic meltdown are suffering,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

The effort also will work with Catholic Charities USA’s ongoing campaign to reduce domestic poverty to demonstrate the connection between the needs of poor Americans and poor people around the world.

Mr. O’Keefe warned that the progress that has been made since 1990 to raise an estimated 400 million people out of extreme poverty – defined as living on less than $1.25 per day – can reverse quickly as the global financial crisis deepens, food shortages mount and climate change intensifies.

“Our wonderful progress aside, the situation still demands our moral attention,” Mr. O’Keefe said.

The initiative will focus on grass-roots efforts at parishes, schools, universities and diocesan social action offices to get people involved. It will rely in large part on the Internet to link people together through an improved global poverty Web site, which will include opportunities for social networking, prayer, advocacy through messages to elected officials, podcasts and Web-based seminars.

“We need to start with our base and use the language of our faith that motivates people,” Mr. Colecchi said.

The revamped Web site – with access points at and – will be up and running after the Feb. 23 announcement in Washington, where more than 500 Catholics engaged in social justice work will gather.

The two organizations have identified seven areas where changes in worldwide policy and government practices can begin to make an immediate difference for the world’s poorest people: debt relief for poor countries, the work of industries that fail to provide adequate compensation to countries for the resources they use, American foreign assistance, peace, global climate change, migration and international trade practices.

“We have to help our Catholic people understand that placing the needs of the people at home over the needs of the people of the world is a false choice,” Mr. Colecchi said. “It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.