Catholic Charities USA follows Francis' lead in 'providing hope'

Video projection of Adrian Dominican Sr. Donna Markham, new president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, giving her welcome address Sept 10 at Catholic Charities USA's annual gathering in Omaha, Neb.

Omaha, Neb. — Launching a campaign entitled #End45 just before their annual gathering Sept. 10-12 in Omaha, Catholic Charities USA hopes to raise awareness "for the 45 million people living in poverty in the United States today and the millions of others in need or struggling to make ends meet," according to the Catholic Charities USA website.

Over 400 people attended the 2015 event, with the theme of Harvesting Hope in the Heartland. Keynote speakers focused on issues of poverty and hunger and how Catholic Charities is hoping for a new future.

"We wanted to highlight the Heartland and Midwest, and stay true to CCUSA's goal to reduce poverty in America while providing hope, changing lives and serving all," said Cailyn Franz, MPA, Communications Coordinator for Catholic Charities in Omaha.

Conference attendees were also focused on Pope Francis' upcoming visit to the United States. The incoming chair of the Board of Trustees, Peg Harmon, said Catholic Charities work is consistent with the message the pope has given and noted the support the organization feels.

"I think it lightens everyone's heart to know that we have someone like our pope so supportive of the work, so supportive of those who have the least in our society," she said. "In that way, it's like the biggest pep rally you can have."

Harmon said Catholic Charities is especially interested in what the pope will say to members of Congress on Sept. 24. 

"We have public policies that don't favor people who are poor," she said.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert greeted the gathering Sept. 10 with the message that no city is exempt from poverty. Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, she noted, yet there is a workforce shortage. She said up to 2,000 people are homeless in Omaha every night and "there are more than 73,000 living below the poverty level in our county."

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas addressed the audience at the beginning of the conference Sept. 10, acknowledging the vibrant community in Omaha and the active and engaged mayor. He said Catholics were a part of the vitality and noted Pope Francis' upcoming Year of Mercy. It is mercy that gives credibility to the Gospel, he said, and we can't be credible witnesses of Jesus Christ unless we are involved in the works of mercy.

"Catholic Charities gives us that credibility," he said. "It is a beautiful gift they provide."

Adrian Dominican Sr. Donna Markham, new president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, received a standing ovation welcoming her in her new role during her keynote speech Sept. 10. According to Markham, nine million people have been touched by Catholic Charities.

Markham said she was touched by the morning prayer which focused on hunger and noted "54 percent of those who come to Catholic Charities for the first time come because they are hungry." At Catholic Charities, they are offered a wide range of services to help them, she said.

Markham told the audience she was reminded of the Gospel of John were Jesus heals a crippled man at Bethseda.

"How many times over the course of these years have you made trips to pools of suffering, places of despair, gathering of people who reached out?" she asked. "How many times have you led people to venues of healing because they weren't able to get there on their own?

"How many times have you spoken up for broken brothers and sisters when it isn't politically correct?" Markham continued. "Catholic Charities has been stretched and transformed as a result of your goodness over these past few years."

Carolyn Y. Woo, president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic church, was the keynote speaker Sept. 12. She told the gathering that they are prophets of our time.

"You look at the world and say, 'no, this is not what God had in mind.' " Woo added that "every act of giving is an act of thanksgiving."

Ray Boshara, senior advisor and director of the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, spoke at the Trends in Family Practice, Theology, Law and Economics Institute, a day-long breakout session designed to address some of the same topics slated for the 2015 World Meeting of Families Sept. 25-27.

Boshara said that the economic outcome of college graduates vary along racial lines. He said whites and Asians who have college degrees have more in terms of net worth than blacks and Hispanics who have college degrees.

"The wealth gap remains large," he said. "African Americans have 40 percent less income than whites and have fewer opportunities to convert what they have into assets. We can't ignore family structure when talking about family financial stability."

Attendees were also introduced to Prepares, a pregnancy and parenting support program founded by bishops in Washington. Prepares unites efforts under a single umbrella to assist pregnant women, fathers and families, working with family clients from conception to the fifth birthday of the child.

Supporting the program are 173 parishes in the Seattle diocese, 41 in the Yakima diocese and 82 in the Spokane diocese. In just one year, more than 1,000 families have been served according to presenters at the conference.

[Elizabeth Elliott is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is]

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