Feast of St. Vincent DePaul

My brother bishop, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn, joins me in issuing this statement.

Today is the feast day of St. Vincent DePaul, considered by many to be the “star” saint of Christian charity and concern for the poor. Many people, including those who don’t know that much about this great saint from the 17th century, know of the work of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, which is active in so many parishes and dioceses around the world bringing direct help to people in need.

Recent statistics sadly remind that today the poor do need a champion.  Michael Powell, writing earlier this week in the New York TimesGotham” blog, notes that while economic conditions have started to improve for some, there are still a shocking number of other people for whom poverty persists, if not worsens, and a recovery is nowhere in sight.   The statistics are overwhelming.   For instance, Powell notes that both The Bronx and Brooklyn have unemployment rates above 13 percent, and, he adds,  “Fully 21 percent [of New Yorkers] live below the poverty line; median income declined in nearly every group; 1.8 million New Yorkers now rely on food stamps.”

You can find great contrasts within a few miles of each others.  In some communities families are finding decent jobs and earning sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families.  Thanks be to God.  However, close by, many other families do not have enough to eat, face the threat of eviction because of the disparity between their income and the rent payment.  One poignant statistic – in one zip code on the East Side of Manhattan the average household income is about $101,000.  In the South Bronx another zip code’s average income is about $19800.

This is not something confined to New York City, of course.  The basics human needs of good jobs, food, and housing continue to challenge tens of millions throughout this country.

At the same time we are fortunate that as a society we do try to provide for those struggling.  Government programs provide enormous support to poor Americans.  In addition generous Americans contribute billions to charities each year.  And so there is much to be grateful for.

However, two things must be said.

1)      It is not enough.  Even with the generosity of the American people, and the work of groups like the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and so many others, much more needs to be done, and not just by private charity.  The government must continue to play its part as well.

2)       There are very dark clouds.  Too much rhetoric in the country portrays poor people in a very negative way.  At the same time, this persistent sluggish economic and slow pace of recovery does two things that hurt the poor: it does not provide sufficient jobs for poor people to earn decent living to support themselves, and it provides less resources for government to do its part for Americans in need.

This is creating a situation that is devastating to struggling families throughout the country.

As the Church celebrates the feast of St. Vincent DePaul, we affirm that the poor must receive our special attention to ensure that they have basic necessities of life.   While St. Vincent de Paul may be the “star” saint, the commitment of the Church to the poor comes directly from Jesus and was first formally recognized by the appointment of deacons to cares for the Greek speaking widows.  Throughout the history of the Church there has always been a preferential option for the poor.  Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, said it simply and straightforwardly: “Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell.”

This commitment and dedication continues and grows today throughout Catholic hospitals, charities and educational institutions.  All of these in their own way make service to the poor the hallmark of their work in building the common good.  Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn serve literally hundreds of thousands of people each year – the neglected child, the homeless family, the hungry senior, the new immigrant to our shores – through our soup kitchens, homeless shelters, family and youth services, and so much more.

There is too much finger pointing and not enough joining hands.  Solidarity is critical to ensure the dignity of all.


20 Responses to “Feast of St. Vincent DePaul”

  1. David Perez says:

    Cardinal Dolan,
    Thank you for your insightful and uplifting post. In your opinion, do you think it is enough in fulfilling our obligation as Christians to support institutions that help the poor, or is it essential to give to panhandlers as well? I find that I am often verbally abused by panhandlers who think they were not given enough or anything at all, and I sometimes wonder if I am simply enabling someone to carry on in a self-defeating way of life instead of helping them address their real needs. Thank you for your time.



  2. Sue Korlan says:

    Please remember that there is no one poorer than an unborn child. All she has is her life, and we allow people to take even that little away from her.

  3. Nick Z says:

    Thank you Cardinal for your post. As a family in poverty and relying on government assistance to some extent, I can tell you that what hurts the most isn’t the lack of money to do things other people can do, or not having nice cars, etc., but the moral and spiritual suffering that comes from people (especially fellow Christians) insulting folks like us. We are called lazy, leeches, “takers” and not “makers”, useless parasites, etc. etc., and our poverty is often times seen as a result of the judgment of God or as a result of our own moral depravity.

    I can tell you that I deeply love our Lord and would not want to offend him in anything of great consequence. I believe fully in all the teachings of the Church and try my best to live up to them. I am married, I don’t contracept, I am not divorced, I work, I have 7 children, I attend daily mass. But I carry this tag “poor” with me and need the government to help me out – and unfortunately, just because of that, I am labelled and hated by a large segment of the population. Please continue to preach about the dignity of the poor as you have been doing. It gives us poor Catholics the strength to carry on and know that we are loved by God and the Church. Something that we all need to hear from time to time.

  4. Julie Ann Courville says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan,

    There are more people in this USA and the world who are starving in today’s secular society not knowing the one True Faith and the One True God.( So much confusion). Most of these people have their physical needs met. This includes many people who are “Catholic” in name within our government and church. The people must be fed the Truth through faith and action following the laws, precepts and ten commandments given to us by God. Only then will a true cure of poverty within our country and the world to come about on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.

    “If we don’t help the poor , we’re going to hell” Many poor live in mansions.

    God bless you always.

  5. Jason says:

    Eminence, confiscatory taxation and redistribution in exchange for votes is not Christian charity. It is socialism, which the Church in Her wisdom condemns.

  6. Micki Kaye says:

    My son lives in Atlanta and street people are always asking for money. Wes keeps high energy, protein bars in his glove compartment and when approached, hands out these.
    Healthy food that is given in love lifts the spirit for both the giver and receiver and I recommend this act of love to anyone who has contact with our needy brothers and sisters who live on the streets.

  7. Will says:

    Solidarity… With whom… Caesar? Almighty God gave a mandate to HIS Church to do the things that Caesar now wishes to do. Only thing is, Caesar wants you to bow down and worship him and his state as god and control you. It is as if the Church in America has stopped preaching the hard Truths of the faith because it is afraid of the IRS and losing its tax exemption and shoved off Almighty God’s MANDATE to Caesar. Has Her Bishops succumbed to Mammon here in the West?… It is the Church’s job to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, not Caesars. Solidarity with our Brethren, not solidarity with atheistic secular nightmares in the Federal Government… In my opinion The New and Everlasting Israel, His Bride, the Church here in the West needs to gets back to preaching the other “S” word, subsidiarity.

    The more Solidarity the Bishops have with the large overbearing central government who does not leave the regular Joe without anything at the family level as it has its tentacles in everything we do, the more the Country shall fail, the more families shall fail. It takes not a village, it takes a family. Restore the Little Platoon of Civilization, the family, and the ship shall right itself, keep funneling more to the large overbearing central federal government and the ship shall sink… And Mammon shall laugh…

  8. Verbummilitant says:

    “It is not enough. Even with the generosity of the American people…The government must play its part as well.” Cardinal Dolan, we all to often forget that “the government” IS the American people.

    The forced redistribution of wealth is not charity. There is no love and no grace in supporting the poor at the point of a bayonet. Perhaps, if we trusted the American people more than we depended on THEIR government we would be a more blessed country.

    The social welfare state created by our progressive political leaders have been pushing redistribution for over 50 years now. The poverty rate has increased every year. Perhaps, just perhaps, we need to discuss a different model.

  9. Thank you Cardinal Dolan,
    we need to be reminded to do as Saint Vincent De Paul, and strive to do good always ; )
    Mexican words of wisdom say simply “Haz el bien sin ver a quien”
    -translated would be something like; “Do good without noticing to whom.”
    I also struggled with the idea of enabling drug or alcohol use on street beggars until my wise father reminded me of our call to service, our need to share the Grace, if only to assure its flow. We will all reach the moment to face our Creator and then all will be clear.

  10. Andrew Humphreys says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    I can not imagine the heartache that you go through on a daily basis administering to the sick and the poor. You truly are a Prince of the Church. Catholic Charities are doing God’s work, and the men and women that work tirelessly for the poor are the salt of the earth.

    Your concerns about the “very dark clouds” are well founded. You are 100% correct that “Too much rhetoric in the country portrays poor people in a very negative way.” Unfortunately, it is the direct fruits of class warfare that is being promoted in our society. There is also too much rhetoric portaying the “rich” in a very negative way at the same time, while our government attempts to steal more of our Liberty. (As you know, I doubt those on the upper East side making $100,000 classify themselves as “rich”)

    The “rich” who feel that they are doing their best to hold on in these very challenging times have the added indignity of being maligned by the marxist/communist forces who want to fundamentally change this country. Added to this, the Rule of Law and the Constitution are being ignored while spending goes unchecked. A recent study indicated that 750 Billion a yr is wasted in Medicare/Medicaid by the Federal government. I could go on and on supporting the proposition that the govt is a very bad steward of our money.

    We are on a precipice of an economic calamity. We have not had a federal budget in over 3 1/2 years and …. Why am I burdening you? If we had more men like you, then we would not be in this mess. I would add, most respectfully, #3

    #3: The ungodly chasms created by class warfare must end. The “rich” must see their obligation to help the poor. The “poor” must look on the “rich” as part of the community as well. The poor must stay in school, avoid behaviors that keep them poor, etc. expressing gratitude, as opposed to entitlement, would be appreciated as well. We must all deeply appreciate the blessings we have from Liberty, and not throw it all away on a system that does not work.

    I write to you because of your public policy convocation lecture. The “very dark clouds” are gathering and the ungodly chasm that swallowed Europe the last century is growing bigger. If the Church could help reinforce the “thankfulness” we all share for this country, and help people see the dangers of the alternatives, joining hands in solidarity as Free Americans will be the norm.

    Thank you for your time.

    Andrew Humphreys

  11. Jibreel Riley says:

    this is what happens when you can just drive past poverty at 65 MPH

  12. Andrew Humphreys says:

    Nick Z– You are not hated and please do not carry those labels anymore. Let them go! You are blessed to have a wondeful family, and are doing your best for them.

    There are forces at work that I don’t quite understand that seem to keep people apart, and foster hatred. The class warfare aspect is exremely troubling to me, and, Catholics ought to demand an end to it. Looking back at the last 100 years, this type of rhetoric does not end well.

    There are abuses at both ends of the spectrum, but we should work to retain the Freedoms that we hold dear and our system of government, even with all of its imperfections. We should strive to understand the struggles each of us endure no matter the economic condition. We must continue to help those in need, and yet express gratitude to those who are in a position to help.

    In that very simple way, we will be closer as Catholics, and as members of our larger community.

    “Gratitude is the memory of the heart” Jean Massieu

  13. TeaPot562 says:

    Two parables to consider: Matt 25:31-46 shows that we must consider those in material poverty whomm we are aware of; and Luke 16:19-31 warns us against letting someone in real need “fade into the scenery” because we didn’t notice him/her.
    Neither of these parables suggests that we should be lobbying the government to set up additional programs “to help the poor”. IMO any private agency would be more efficient in aiding people in need than the US Federal government. Catholic Relief Services would be a first consideration.

  14. Natalie says:

    Wow. The comments on this blog post tell me that the American Church is in crisis indeed. We can’t even respond to a relatively apolitical post on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul without a knee-jerk reaction of condemning “socialism” and the “redistribution of wealth” (which the Church is in favor of by the way– see Caritas in Veritate 32, 42)?

    It seems that Catholics, at least the ones who read this blog, are in desperate need of catechesis. Maybe this is what Julie was referring to when she spoke of the poor in spirit.

    Jesus made painfully clear that our salvation will depend on whether we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, take care of the sick, and visit the imprisoned. It’s not up for debate.

  15. Phil says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    Thank you for emphasizing this very important part of the Catholic faith.

    While many Catholics, myself included, may publicly disagree with you on a number of hot button issues of the day, social action service on behalf of those less fortunate than ourselves is an arena where all Catholics can be united, and where we are all eager to follow your leadership.

    Our Catholic community could really benefit from a dose of unity these days, so I urge you to continue to use your leadership to focus all of us on the importance of service.

    I read recently that Catholic Charities is the second largest provider of social service in the United States, beat only by the federal government. This is an excellent accomplishment which merits much more attention.

    So much of what divides the Church today could be healed if we could switch the focus to the goal of becoming the #1 social service provider in the United States. This is an ambitious goal worthy of Catholics.

    I can think of no better method for uniting the Church internally, persuading our fellow Americans that the Catholic Church is a leader, a good citizen, and a voice of love that merits their attention and respect.

  16. Cindy says:

    When Catholics hear the news about the need for big government they will vote accordingly. We should now expect the most pro-death adminstration ever imagined, thanks in part to Cardinal Dolan.

  17. Ann M Conte says:

    Dear Cardinal Dolan: In March 2012 the Congress adopted the Ryan Budget. On April 16, Bishops Blaire and Pates wrote to Congress:”…major reductions at this time of economic turmoil and rising poverty will hurt the hungry and the poor and vulnerable people in our nation and around the world.” They added that the needs of the poor should “come before assistance to those who are well off and powerful.” On April 16 Bishop Blaire wrote to a congressional committee citing “unacceptable cuts to hunger and nutrition programs” noting that such cuts were “unjustified and wrong” and that the Budget resolution failed to meet the moral criteria established by the Bishops. On May 8 Bishop Blaire, on behalf of the USCCB, referring to to the moral standards set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, declared that “The cuts to programs in the budget resolution fail this basic moral test.” Can you confirm that the comments of the Bishops on the Ryan Budget represent the position of the USCCB ? Respectfully, Ralph G Conte.

  18. Mary Griffin says:

    Your Eminence – With all due respect, I feel you are really wrong on this issue. The government has thrown over $1 trillion dollars at poverty in this nation since the 1960’s. The result is that poverty is now increasing, and you think the solution is to throw more money at it? Our government has legalized the killing of unborn children, and more than 60 million have been surgically aborted, and we can only guess at how many have been chemically aborted. How many have been murdered who could be contributing to this society? Don’t you think that is one of the main causes of poverty in this country? You want this government, who has declared war on the Catholic Church, to help the poor? It would be like the early Christians asking Diocletian to help the poor.

    I’m sorry, Your Eminence, but this just seems totally wrong to me.

  19. CW Karla Golay DJM says:

    Some of these posts rebuking His Eminance is disrespectful at least and awfully rude and disdainful and disgraceful at worst. I cannot abide laity acting like this in their political beliefs. Not asking you wealthier anti social, anti poor, kind to accept progressive politics but if you have nothing to offer but criticism and no realistic and workable solutions for the good of the whole body of Christ it would be better if you said nothing at all.

    There is no avoiding the inevitable. The evil Bush tax cuts during a time of war or that was NOT paid for and NOT supported by taxes, etc. IS coming to an end and wealthy Americans ARE going to have their taxes go up. This is NOT redistribution, it is NOT socialism. It is paying your fair share and if your unwilling to do this and will vote for anyone, evil or not, who can assist you in keeping your filthy money then it would be better you left the Catholic Church because that is not what we’re about.

    The Lord Rebuke You.

    Our outreach is for the least, the last, the lost. We can do this by approaching the problems and dealing with the members in the rank and file of the poor who do abuse and misuse the kindness shown them, food,shelter, etc. because of their addictions, mental illness, etc.

    Join us….or leave us. We have work to do.

  20. Anne says:

    I am shocked and saddened that the New Magesterium for many Catholics is the neo- conservative economic policies of the extreme element of the Republican party. I believe whole paragraphs from Recent encyclicals on social justice would be rejected outright, while whatever Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, or the candidates to the extreme right say would be accepted.
    Pope Paul VI says LAND EXPROPRIATION from landed estates is demanded when these estates:

    A. Are extensive, poorly used, or unused
    B. Bring hardship to peoples
    C. Are detrimental to the interests of the country
    D. Impede the general prosperity

    Please read Populorum Progressio and the other recent great papal encyclicals on Social Justice!