Carolyn Smith of Dayton, Ohio was living without food or working utilities and in “in an utter, total state of depression" when a Good Samaritan brought her to the local Catholic Social Services.
She received help and is now working a steady job with a “reason to get up in the morning" and “get out of the house," as she describes it. Her story is one of millions that Catholic Charities, USA hopes to tell Americans about poverty with the “#End45" campaign.
“We started the campaign because we believe that most Americans don’t know the extent of the problem in this country," Sister Donna Markham, O.P., president of Catholic Charities, USA, said at the National Press Club on Thursday, announcing the campaign.
The title #End45 refers to the approximately 45 million Americans living in poverty (it’s actually 46.7 million, according to the latest Census data). Catholic Charities hopes that by “raising their hands" – participants can take a picture of “#End45" written on their palm and post it to social media – people can simply raise awareness about poverty.
“I think most people don’t realize the extent of it (poverty), or if they do know that there are poor people, they see somebody on the street begging, but they don’t understand the complexity," Sister Markham explained.
“There are a lot of judgments made about people who are poor," she added, like the cliché that they should just get a job. “Sometimes they are too distraught to be able to get to that place."
So Catholic Charities, USA is trying to tell their stories. They have seven videos of persons helped out of poverty by the organization available on the campaign’s website. Perhaps this could start an avalanche of awareness of poverty. More Good Samaritans could bring the needy like Carolyn Smith to the local Catholic Charities for aid.
Obviously, Pope Francis’ visit may be the ultimate catalyst of this awareness, Sr. Markham noted. The Pope will visit Catholic Charities sites in Washington, D.C. and New York City where food and beds are provided to the homeless and immigrants are welcomed.
“He’s really underscoring the importance of us coming together, not only as Catholic Charities but as human beings, to address the throwaway culture," she said. Particularly, Americans could improve “how we interact with each other" and with the poor, she said, especially becoming “a little more compassionate in our discourse."
However, she also thinks that Pope Francis will have a wake-up call for Congress, especially with regard to “social policy" and the budget.
“The Gospel is a disturbing message," she said, and Pope Francis will probably “make everyone uncomfortable" when he speaks in the House Gallery on Sept. 25.
Pope Francis will visit the United States Sept. 22-27, where he will canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, visit an inner-city school, address a joint session of Congress, meet with President Barack Obama, visit the United Nations, and close with a Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
By Matt Hadro