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Churches can't afford to do more for poor, says nun

By By Mark Pattison Catholic News Service on April 27, 2012
© U.S. Catholic

Each church in the United States would have to find an extra $50,000 to replace the $133 billion in nutrition funding for the poor cut by the House of Representatives, according to Sister Margaret Mary Kimmins, a Franciscan Sister of Allegany, N.Y., and Bread for the World's associate for Catholic Church relations.

The House cut does not include an additional $33 billion proposed by the House Agriculture Committee, Sister Margaret Mary added during an April 26 conference call with reporters.

The cuts come primarily from the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The money the House would cut simply cannot be made up by individual congregations, she said.

"Some people who used to donate food are now standing in line themselves," Sister Margaret Mary said.

In an April 25 op-ed piece in The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Sister Margaret Mary said, "There are two significant pieces of Catholic social teaching that provide a good moral context for the federal budget: charity and justice." But the House-passed budget "seems to put all of the responsibility of charity on the churches, but churches and governments must work together to accomplish both charity and justice," she said.

"Catholic social teaching also includes the principle of preferential treatment for poor and vulnerable people, and we must adhere to that principle if the good of all is to prevail," Sister Margaret Mary added. It "also talks about solidarity and being at one with all of humanity, particularly with those whom Jesus calls 'the least of these.'"

She said, "We have to tell Congress -- and tell them again and again -- that they must create a circle of protection around programs that are vital to hungry and poor people. And then we must pray hard that they will listen to their conscience as upright, moral persons of faith."

In a telephone interview with Catholic News Service following the conference call, Sister Margaret Mary lauded the U.S. Catholic bishops for having taken "a very significant stand" on the budget, speaking out against cuts in programs for the nation's poor. "I believe they're right on target with it," she said

Clergy on the conference call, organized by Bread for the World, echoed Sister Margaret Mary's stance.

"You can't get blood from a turnip," said the Rev. Barb Hobe, pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ in Lebanon, Ohio. "My congregation numbers less than 50 people, and most are in the last third of their lives. We're already reaching out to the poorest of the poor."

Rev. Hobe told of how she lent a bicycle to a man who shows up regularly at the food pantry her church sponsors. He needed to commute from his job at McDonald's to his home. "He could only find a bed in a boarding house eight miles away," she said.

"It's an almost impossible choice," said Bishop Ervin Sims Jr., pastor of Mount Carmel Church of God in Christ, an African-American congregation of about 450 in Kansas City, Kan. "There's a gap between the perception of how hungry people are and the ability of the church to respond to it."

"Most of these people aren't used to filling out forms for social service programs, so they don't come to us until they're desperate," he said. "I've been a pastor 32 years. ... This is beyond our reach."

"For an elected official or a group to say 'pass it on to the church,' that's what makes me laugh," added the Rev. Adan Mairena, pastor of West Kensington Ministry, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Philadelphia largely populated by Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics.

"Twenty-five percent of Latinos are poor and we are the biggest ethnic group. Of the poor, 15 million of them are children," Rev. Mairena added. "Who's to ensure that we all have access to the quality of life that is based on the morals of this country?"

Sister Margaret Mary told CNS that Bread for the World was sending an emergency appeal to Catholic and other Christian leaders, hoping to stave off the SNAP cuts. The hope, she said, is to get 5,000 responses.

She declined to speculate on the outcome of the effort. "That's not my forte, but I do think I'm a person of faith," she said, "so take it from there."

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