Catholic Charities USA gathering hears of hunger, hope

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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People from across the United States have gathered in the center of the U.S. for Harvesting Hope in the Heartland, the Catholic Charities USA 2015 annual conference.

More than 400 people have come from as far away as Alaska and as near as Catholic Charities Omaha to hear speakers including Dr. Shane Lopez, author of Making Hope Happen, and a senior scientist at Gallup, where he is billed as “the world’s leading researcher on hope.”

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert greeted the gathering 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 73,000 people living below the poverty line in Douglas County.

Stothert said that Omaha is working on a comprehensive plan to serve the homeless. The vision, she said is have “a campus for transitioning people back into their own home.”

“Pope Francis’ words have been heard,” Stothert said. “All of us are working together to #End 45.” Catholic Charities USA launched a campaign this week called #End45 that aims at “raising 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.”

Omaha Archbishop George Lucas addressed the audience acknowledging the vibrant community in Omaha and the active and engaged mayor. He said Catholics were a common part of the vitality and noted Pope Francis’ upcoming Year of Mercy and that mercy gives credibility to the Gospel.

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

Adrian Dominican Sr. Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, received a standing ovation welcoming her in her new role after her start in June. 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.

Breakout sessions throughout this weekend will cover topics such as addressing refugees, veterans, aging, immigration, race and effective collaboration.

Carolyn Y. Woo, president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic church, is a keynote speaker on Saturday.

[Elizabeth A. Elliott, an NCR Bertelsen intern, is covering the Catholic Charities annual gathering. Contact her at]

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