Pope’s Message of Helping Poor Resonates with Religious Charities

By Brenda Flanagan

The 12-year-old Filipina girl wept, telling Pope Francis about living on the street. The boy described starving children selling sex to get food. They asked him, why does God let terrible things happen to children?

“Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something,” said Pope Francis.

“This Pope — who I’m half-convinced was not elected, but was sent here by god — he keeps telling everyone, ‘We’re not in a position to judge anything. We’re here to try to solve a problem,'” said Father Edward Lambro.

Lambro heads Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Paterson. He says programs like food pantries help save people from more than hunger.

“We have to find I think environments in which we can help people out of poverty so they don’t have to do these things just to survive,” he said.

Religious charities like the diocese do a lot of heavy lifting — caring for the poor in New Jersey’s cash-strapped economy, where government keeps cutting services and non-profits struggle to pick up those who fall through widening gaps in the safety net. Paterson also sponsors 13 homes like this one, for the developmentally disabled — opened Murray House almost 50 years ago. Fay Bashir’s worked here for a decade, caring for residents.

“You know, care about them and worry about them. And I don’t like to leave them, sometimes,” she said.

She put on the head scarf for us — says in her Muslim faith, these men are innocents.

“I’m not allowed to show hair or anything when men are around. But when they are here by themselves, I have no cover on my head, because they are innocent,” she said.

One million New Jerseyans live at or below the poverty level, according to census figures, and cutbacks in federal food assistance programs offer each one only $4.20 a day.

“A society is judged by how we treat the least fortunate amongst us,” said JCC of Central NJ incoming president Ken Rooter.

Ken Rotter’s incoming president at Central Jersey’s Jewish Community Center — where his sons today joined other kids honoring Martin
Luther King with a day of service.

“We’re making lunches for kids who don’t have lunches, we’re raising money for families who don’t have a house, we’re doing all those things so our children will understand the importance of community, and that’s how you do things,” Rotter said.

In his speech, the Pope says it’s not enough to throw money at the problem and walk away. He said let the poor teach you about fear, hunger and homelessness, see the world through their eyes.