Priest speaks on poverty and compassion in cities
Vienna Wagner | Sunday, December 4, 2011
The first step to aiding the poor is to stand with them, Fr. Fred Kammer said in a lecture to Urban Plunge participants Sunday.
Kammer is the executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute and has worked as the president of Catholic Charities USA.The lecture, titled, “Building Justice in the Cities,” addressed breaking the cycle of urban poverty.
“Making the invisible visible is the first step to compassion,” Kammer said. “Standing with the poor is a touchstone that gives us a wisdom that comes from the poor themselves and leads us to make judgments in favor of the poor.”
Kammer said taking a stand with the poor challenges our society’s dominant views.
“Standing with those who are poor introduces us to a new way of seeing the world around us,” he said. “This insistence on personal contact runs against our culture’s proclivity to see the poor as invisible or faceless.”
But Kammer said casting away these views and keeping contact with the poor is crucial.
“Think about your life and try to maintain contact with at least one person who is poor or marginalized and support one issue pertaining to the poor,” he said. “Connect the face of Christ to the poor.”
This practice of seeing God in the poor is a longstanding one, Kammer said. He appealed to students to follow the example of historical Israel and show their faith by helping those in need.
“In biblical Israel … the poor became a measure of Israel’s fidelity to the Lord,” Kammer said. “We Christians should ask the question, ‘How will this affect the poor?’ The fundamental moral criterion for all economic policies is that they must be at the service of all people, especially the poor.”
Kammer said once people make an initial commitment to stand with the poor, they might change the way they live their own lives.
“One of the first reactions that people have is to adopt a simpler lifestyle,” he said. “This choice is a stance appropriate to students. Individuals who stand with the poor also stand with them in their career choices whether by choosing to teach in inner-city schools instead of the suburbs or doing social work in place of commercial law.
“The needs of the poor take priority over the desire of the rich,” Kammer said.
Kammer said always maintaining hope is crucial, as he differentiated between hope and optimism.
“Standing with the poor can usher us into their own experience of failure and marginalization,” Kammer said. “It’s therefore important for us to maintain a fundamental attitude of hope.”