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American Voices: Msgr. Kevin Sullivan

This week’s “American Voices” essay is from Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, a federation of more than 90 affiliated agencies around the New York metropolitan area that serves hundreds of thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers. He talks about the obligation of Catholic Charities to serve those in need.

Catholic Charities is a network of agencies and program that are in every part of the United States. One of the things we like to do is to say that we touch almost every human need. And what that means is that we kind of protect and we nurture children and youth. We feed people who are hungry. We try to shelter people who are without homes or make sure that they don’t lose their homes. And there are a lot of struggling families. So we try to help resolve the crises that families face. And some of our neighbors are people who have lifelong challenges. They may have some emotional problems. They may have development disabilities. So we support them. And then a very important thing that we do is we welcome newcomers, new Americans, immigrants, refugees.

One of the things that we have to keep in mind is even in good times, those people who are poor struggle. So when it’s difficult times, not only do those people struggle more, but more people become poor and near-poor. But it’s not about statistics. It’s not about the Census Bureau. It’s about a neighbor who, for whatever reason, can’t make it. And they need some help from a neighbor, not in a condescending way, but a way that respects their dignity. Now maybe people don’t like food stamps. They don’t like that people get food stamps on a regular basis. But I can tell you, it’s certainly a more dignified way for a person to feed themselves and their families than to have to line up at a soup kitchen or a food pantry.

There’s a responsibility we have as individual Christians, individual Catholics to reach out to those in need, to be personally generous. And then as a community of Christians, a community of Catholics, which is basically what the church is, there are some things that we can only do as a group, because the problems are so big, the needs are so big that we have to join together our resources, in order to meet those needs. Our primary obligation as Catholic Charities is to see in the person in need the image and likeness of God. And that’s why we do what we do. We help people, not because they’re Catholic, but we help them because it’s part of our faith. Jesus wasn’t neutral on people. He had a preference for those who were poor, those who were downtrodden, those who were outcast, those who were on the margins. And if I call myself a disciple of Jesus Christ, then I best follow that example.