"I have a passion for the issues that face those we visit. And I know that advocacy would help. But I'm just one person. What can I do?"
You hear this sometimes as we discuss starting a Voice of the Poor committee or asking for someone to act as the conference VOP contact. In fact, you may have thought this to yourself at one time or another.
Of course, if we all let those thoughts drive our actions, we wouldn't be Vincentians in the first place.
Whether we sort food in a pantry or visit people in their homes, we make a difference. Have you ever been standing with our collection basket or watching it move through the congregation and notice the number of people who reach into their pocket to make a last minute donation? They know about our ministry and believe in the great work we do but may have forgotten that we have a collection scheduled for that day.
Just think of the chain reaction impact you have on that donor and others in the congregation. You helped fund our work. You've help that person reflect on our service to the poor. And all of this work will make a difference in the lives of many.
That is often the way that advocacy begins.
I am writing this on the anniversary of the day that Mahatma Gandhi inadvertently began his "civil disobedience" career.
Gandhi was a young lawyer sent to segregated Pretoria, South Africa to work in an Indian law firm. He had a first class train ticket but another passenger took exception to a "non-white" traveling in first class. He was forcibly removed from the train. This exposed him to a racism to which he was not accustomed. Individually, he began to practice the nonviolent resistance we're familiar with.
Gandhi didn't plan to protest apartheid that day. I can't imagine he intended to start a movement. And, while he was trained as a lawyer, his passion was for justice. The rest he learned as he went along.
That is the way it is with VOP folks. We already have a passion for charity. When you couple that with the lessons we learn during home visits and other meetings with those in need, it doesn't take long until you start to move from "someone should do something about this" to "I need to do something about this".
Hunger is one of those issues that should be unifying but is sometimes divisive. No one is satisfied that, for many kids, the two meals they get in school may be the only decent food they eat all day. Very few would argue that "food deserts" aren’t a contributor to obesity in the US. It's when we get down to solutions that we start to clash. Frequently, that disagreement isn't over the facts of hunger but over the lingering myths about the poor.
Last week I saw a screening of the movie "A Place at the Table", which was sponsored by the Atlanta Food Bank. This movie does a good job of trying to clarify the facts about hunger in America. It can be a great way to stimulate discussion about the topic in your parish. This is just one of the ways you can be a Voice of the Poor.
I’ll leave you with three thoughts and let the Holy Spirit do the rest:
- In his charge to the original Macintosh design team, Steve Jobs instructed them to "make a dent in the universe."
- The French Catholic writer Gabrielle Bossis received a vision from God: "There are people I am waiting to reach only through you".
- "Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father." Mt 5:16