(In preparation for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development’s (CCHD) Annual Appeal Sunday – this year’s, this coming Sunday November 15th – I have asked my colleague Lourdes Ferrer, Community Development Coordinator for the Department of Social and Community Development, for a brief reflection on CCHD)
Ahhh! Autumn, my favorite time of the year: cool brisk air that invigorates the body and the mind; trees adorned in brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red; the excitement the onset of the holiday season brings; the angry phone calls and letters…
Oh wait, I didn’t mean to include that last item. It’s just that this can be a pretty trying time of the year for me. You see I’m the coordinator of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) for the Archdiocese of New York and each November, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the annual CCHD collection is taken in parishes across the country. The funds you donate, helps to fund the work of CCHD.
You’re probably thinking, “That sounds like a good thing. So what’s the problem?”
Unfortunately, opposition to CCHD is as seasonal as candy corn and pumpkin pie. But let me start by giving those of you unfamiliar with CCHD, a little background about the program: CCHD is the domestic anti-poverty, social justice program founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 1970. Its mission is to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled, self-help organizations and through transformative education. CCHD awards grant funds in two areas: community organizing and economic development. Community organizing grants are awarded to groups that demonstrate a commitment to the dignity of the human person by bringing diverse people together to address the root causes of poverty in their communities, removing institutional barriers that keep historically marginalized and low-income people from reaching their full God-given potential. Economic development grants support initiatives that significantly include the voice of the poor and marginalized, developing new businesses that offer good jobs, and/or develop assets that will be owned and enjoyed by local communities.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “So where do the angry phone calls and letters come in?”
Since it’s inception, CCHD has faced opposition from a minority of people that think that CCHD is – in their words – not a “Biblical organization”; they are equally afraid that the money distributed is being used for – again, their words – “non-Catholic activity.” These opponents have long called for the disbandment of CCHD and have been very vocal about their beliefs. They write articles and blogs, send letters, and make phone call of which I (along with CCHD directors/coordinators across the country) am the recipients.
To make matter worse, last year, we learned that the staff leadership of ACORN, a CCHD funded organization, had covered up information regarding the embezzlement of funds from their organization. In addition, concerns arose regarding reports of ACORN’s involvement in alleged voter registration fraud and political partisanship. This motivated CCHD opponents, across the country, to strike with greater fervor then ever before, even after CCHD had stopped funding ACORN.
I don’t want to mislead you, it’s not like I get bags of mail or my telephone is ringing off the hook (Sadly, I’m not that popular.) The truth is I usually get three to four complaints a year. Most of the complaints are harmless. For example, I once had a women call to tell me she wouldn’t be donating to CCHD because she didn’t like the website of one of our funded groups; and another time a male caller informed me I was to blame for the economic crisis. I can’t say I really understood his logic, but apparently my funding community groups triggered that whole Wall Street scandal (Oh, to have such power!)
But then there is a second group of people whose anger towards CCHD is so great, that it makes communication impossible. I’m sure you can relate to my frustration. We’ve all experienced people that don’t listen and just yell, never letting you get a word in edgewise. You can always tell, by their tone, that they’ve already made up their mind that they’re right, and they don’t want to give you the opportunity to say anything that might dissuade them from their viewpoint. And although I respect that everyone is entitled to their opinion and I understand that not everyone will change their minds about CCHD simply because I, or any other CCHD supporter, tells them that it’s a great program that touches the lives of thousands of low- and moderate- income people across our country, and that it inspires change not only in individual lives, but in the health and well-being of communities as a whole, it still would be nice to be part of a discussion where information can be exchanged and the possibility of greater understanding is possible. Maybe then CCHD won’t be judged on the handful of grants, made over its thirty-nine year history, that might be considered bad judgment calls, and instead be judged by the hundreds of successful projects that have been funded.
Maybe then, I’d have the chance to tell them about The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Port Chester, New York, who established a workers center to assist in facilitating the connection between employers and day labors while also providing an opportunity for skill development for the workers; or maybe I could answer questions about the great work being done by Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio (Movement for Justice in El Barrio) in East Harlem, a project initially established by St. Celia’s Church after receiving countless complaints from low-income parishioners suffering under hazardous and illegal living conditions, and today is a four hundred member strong organization, whose membership continues to work for improvement to their living conditions and their community; or better yet, maybe we could come together to share a meal at COLORS Restaurant, an economic development project initiated by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), and I could tell them how the idea for this amazing cooperatively owed eatery was born from the ashes of destruction of September 11th. And maybe I’d get the chance to tell them about the individual members of these organizations and how their lives have changed, for the better, because parishioners cared enough to drop a couple of bills into the second collection basket on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. And at the end of our conversation, if they were still unconvinced that a greater good has been served through CCHD’s funding of these community based organizations, maybe they could, at least, acknowledge that the program has made a difference in the lives of people across our country, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
After giving it a lot of thought I decided, since the dialoging for greater understanding thing hasn’t yet happened, I would take it upon myself to come up with a solution that would satisfy both sides (What can I tell you? I’m a Libra. I need harmony.)
After much prayer and discernment, I’ve come up with the following plan:
First, we get everyone to agree “that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.”
Secondly, everyone agrees that “the person is not only sacred but also social” and that “how we organize our society – in economic and politics, in law and policy – directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.”
Thirdly, we need to remember that “every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency” and that “corresponding to these rights are duties and responsibilities to one another, to our families, and to the larger society.”
Then, we acknowledge that “a basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring” and that “in a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our Catholic tradition…instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.”
We then need to remember that “work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation” and that “if the dignity of work is to be protected, then the basic rights of workers must be respected – the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to the organization and joining of unions, to private property, and to economic initiative.”
Then, we’ll show our “respect for our creator by our stewardship of creation.” We need to remember “we are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation.”
And last, but certainly not least, we’ll come into full realization that we are one human family called to stand in solidarity with on another. We will remember that we are “our brother’s and sister’s keepers, wherever they may be,” and that “loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world,” and that “at the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.”
Now, all we need to do is get everyone to live by these seven…what should we call them…I don’t know, maybe principles. If we could just get everyone to agree to live by these Seven Principles, then every person would have the opportunity to live life in the fullness that they deserve as children of God. And if everyone is living their lives in the fullness they deserve, then there would be no need for community groups; which means there would be no groups seeking CCHD funding; which means we won’t have to take up the CCHD collection; which means no one would have to worry that funds are being misused; which will eliminate anyone’s need to complain.
TA-DA! It’s a great plan, don’t you think?
Hmm? What’s that? You think you’ve heard of these Seven Principles before?
GOOD! I was hoping you had. For as much as I’d like to take credit for them, these principles have long been at the heart of our Church’s social teachings. If you’d like to learn more about the social teachings of the Church, I recommend you visit www.usccb.org or www.osjspm.org.
Just this week, as I rode the uptown W train, on my way to the Catholic Center, I spied a Subtalk ad that caught my attention. For those of you that don’t have the pleasure of riding the NYC subway, the MTA has a series of ads that are meant to stimulate your mind as you ride the rails. This particular ad is part of their “Train of Thought” series and it contained the following quote: “Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”
As I contemplated these words, thoughts of CCHD and the many phone calls, letter, and emails I’d received during my ten year tenure as CCHD coordinator, flooded my mind and I realized: After all these years, people know so little about CCHD. And I decided to make the following plea:
Please don’t limit your vision of CCHD to only the small bits of negative information that’s making such a loud impress these days, but rather be open to hearing the entire CCHD story. Check out the CCHD website (www.usccb.org/cchd), read the funding criteria, review the funding process, read about the funded groups and visit their websites. Don’t be shy about asking questions. There are CCHD directors/coordinators, in every diocese and we’re more then happy to answer your questions. All I ask is that you hear us out. I can’t guarantee that our answers will be exactly what you want to hear, but I promise they will always be the truth.
Give CCHD a chance, you may be surprised by what you discover.