Pope visit inspires over 15,500 letters to Congress

Offering of Letters blessed by the pope. Hazel Bonilla/Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York.

By Margaret Tran and Jon Gromek

In a record-breaking feat, more than 15,500 letters were sent to Congress from just two states – some blessed by Pope Francis. 

In anticipation of the pope’s U.S. visit, Catholics in Ohio and New York wrote to their U.S. legislators in September and urged them to close the child hunger gap by passing a child nutrition bill. The legislation would allow more food-insecure children to receive the nutrition they need in order to thrive.

The influx of letters comes at a critical time. The legislation that sets funding and policy for the nation’s school meal programs, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), expired just days ago on September 30. Congress needs to hear from people of faith, especially when 1 in 5 U.S. children lives at risk of hunger.

Letter-writer and pastoral associate Mary Anne Bressler of St. Anthony Catholic Church in Madisonville, Ohio, told WCPO Cincinnati that it was important to go beyond charity and solve the problem of hunger. “The pope has actually challenged us to solve that problem by 2025, so this is one tiny first step to his actions, his call to action,” 

In Ohio, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Bread for the World partnered on a “Food For All Campaign.” Over 12,000 letters were sent to Congress from Ohio alone.  First blessed during a press conference by Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, the letters were later hand-delivered to seven congressional offices by Bread members. 

Schnurr wrote in a Sidney Daily News guest column that advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable was a fitting way to honor the pope’s visit.  “[O]ur faith propels us constantly into the public square,” he wrote, “to shape a society that advances all human life and dignity, families and communities, economic justice, peace and solidarity, and care for the Earth.”

In partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, thousands of people representing 35 Catholic churches and organizations worked together to write letters to Congress about child hunger.

“There is nothing greater than working with such wonderful, passionate, dedicated and committed individuals,” said Martha Robles, executive director of Catholic Charities Community Services of Rockland.

The New York letters were blessed by Pope Francis during his visit on September 25 to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem. The letters were also hand delivered to New York lawmakers.

“This is truly a moral issue,” said Bob Ehrsam of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church about advocating for child nutrition programs. “This is really what we are called to as Christians to do,” he told WCPO Cincinnati, “to be spokespeople, and supporters, and advocates for those who are poor and hungry.”

Add your voice and email Congress. Tell them to get to work and pass a child nutrition bill that closes the hunger gap and give more children the building blocks they need to thrive.

Margaret Tran and Jon Gromek are regional organizers at Bread for the World.

Photo: Bread regional organizer Margaret Tran, center, holds a basket filled with letters blessed by the pope. At her side is Tom Dobbins and Dianne Johnson, both of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York. Hazel Bonilla/Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York.

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