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Theology on Tap lecture discusses poverty

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jennifer Betz, an employee of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), presented a lecture titled, “Poverty — From Stigma to Solidarity” at the Theology on Tap discussion hosted by Campus Ministry on Wednesday evening. Betz, an alumna of Notre Dame, spoke on the importance in Catholic theology of caring for the poor.

CRS was formed in 1943 to provide relief during World War II, according to the organization’s website. It has gradually shifted its emphasis towards development and peacemaking over the past 50 years. A large part of the mission of CRS is combating injustice, especially with regard to poverty.

Betz began her lecture by quoting Pope Francis’ “The Joy of the Gospel” to establish the problem of inequality that CRS seeks to combat: “The mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity,” Betz quoted.

Betz provided an example of her personal experience with poverty. When she was near the Haiti-Dominican Republic border after the 2010 earthquake, she noted the difference in poverty levels between villages separated by the border.

“It is dusty because a lot of the roads aren’t paved,” Betz said. “There are buildings that have questionable construction standards. … [If you go to the other side of the border] you see a town, you see paved streets, and there are trees and flowers and consistent water and electricity.”

Betz said one of her Haitian co-workers described the border phenomenon with the phrase, “Poverty is political.”

Betz quoted Pope Francis, restating his idea that modern economies not only exploit the marginalized, but also exclude them. The existence of systems that “shut out” the poor from living with dignity in society is ubiquitous, she said.

Betz compared the situation of a poor textile worker in Cambodia with that of a homeless alcoholic in South Bend and said both of these people do not receive wages high enough to allow them the resources they deserve as human beings.

Betz discussed ways CRS helps the poor, such as campaigning for fair trade regardless of market conditions. CRS advocates for safe working conditions and giving impoverished access to credit, she said. Betz also encouraged the audience to be personally accountable in combating poverty.

“Consumption is not apolitical,” Betz said. “I think that consumption is actually incredibly political. Every dollar that we spend means something. And when we spend it in an unjust way, that means something to the people who aren’t treated well.”

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