Over the weekend some 65 folks involved in parish social ministry gathered to share and learn how to spread the Gospel message of caring for our sisters and brothers, especially those in greatest need. Friday evening began with a prayer service led by Diocesan Social Concerns Director Kathy Langer. Bishop Donald Kettler introduced the weekend’s theme in his homily— we who are Church are mandated by the Gospel to reach out in a special way to the poorest among us. He said he hoped that everyone would read The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis.
Saturday began and ended with prayer. In between, participants were challenged to come to a better understanding of people living in poverty, with the idea that better understanding will help us build bridges so that people can “walk out of poverty” on their own. Nationally known speaker Jodi Pfarr did an excellent job of helping us see people living in poverty as they really are. But, more than seeing people as they are, she encouraged us to see things through their eyes, to try to understand why they make choices that sometimes seem to make no sense to us. In doing this, Jodi led us through a mental model of poverty that examines the situation of people living in poverty. While they have some of the same concerns as people living in the middle class, they also have many different concerns. Jodi explained that people living in poverty also approach life issues differently than people living in the middle class. People living in poverty view everything through the lens of relationships, whereas those from the middle class view life through the lens of achievement.
What all this means is that our approach to helping people must take into account the lens through which they approach life. Do we just “bring” them things? Or, do we help them “build” the things they need in their lives? Bringing them things they need may help temporarily, but when these things are used up, people find themselves in their original situation. When we build with them, they actually develop the means to help themselves, and we live out the joy of the Gospel!