Australia’s bishops have challenged Catholics to consider how they can be the “Good News to the poor”, and have outlined ideas for action.
By Anthony Barich
Using the opportunity of the country’s slowing economic growth to highlight the growing gap between the rich and the poor, the Australian Bishops spelled out the causes of poverty and the obligation of Catholics to do something about it in a 20-page document released on September 17 for Social Justice Sunday on September 28.
In the statement called “A rich young nation: The challenge of affluence and poverty in Australia”, the bishops said that the most vulnerable in this new climate of wealth are indigenous families, sole-parent families, low-paid workers, refugees and the homeless.
Noting that the average Aboriginal life expectancy is still 17 years lower than the general population, the bishops said it is “to our great shame” that we have not met the needs of these members of Australian society. Though applauding Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the “Stolen Generation”, the bishops said the causes of poverty in these communities must be addressed in true partnership with Aborigines.
The bishops also responded to the Commonwealth intervention – initiated by the previous Federal Government – in communities in the Northern Territory and Western Australia to prevent child abuse.
The bishops said: “We now need to move beyond the law-and-order focus to provide a full range of culturally appropriate support services that can foster strong families and communities in crisis.”
They said that 100,000 homeless is simply “unacceptable”, and warned that people suffering chronic mental illness are particularly at risk with other disadvantages. They said the 1980s focus on deinstitutionalisation and community integration have not been matched with funds adequate to provide the necessary accommodation and care.
A competitive rental market and long list for public housing is also making it hard for people to develop and maintain social connections that might help such people build confidence and ultimately find employment.
The bishops also said reconnecting with family and finding accommodation is tough for former prisoners who suffer from inadequate support networks.
They noted that more than a third return to prison within two years, which is exacerbated by mandatory sentencing arrangements in many jurisdictions which have led to overcrowding of prisons and remand centres.
Referring to the Australian bishops’ 1992 statement on the distribution of wealth as Australia was heading towards the end of a world recession, they again renewed their call this year for political and community leaders to ensure that the common wealth of Australia be dedicated to the common good.
Suggesting ideas for action for communities and individuals, the bishops listed:
– Give of your time. Look for information about the work of your parish on the notice board at your church and ask your priest or pastoral associate what support you can give.
– Consider how you can live more simply, free of the demands of consumerism. Programs like the ‘livesimply project’ show that, in reflecting on our lifestyles and choosing to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity with the poor, we can help create a world in which human dignity is respected and everyone can reach their full potential. For more information, visit www.livesimply.org.uk
– Make a donation. Identify the amount you are able to contribute to an organisation that will maximise the good outcomes of the gift you offer. Catholic charities and social services can ensure your contribution is put to best effect.
– Think of opportunities to contribute in your diocese and the broader community.
Visit the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference website and follow the links to see the works of organisations in your diocese: www.acbc.catholic.org.au/dio/index.asp.
– Become more informed about the issues relating to poverty in Australia.
They also urged people to visit the websites of:
– Catholic Social Services Australia:
– Australian Catholic Social Justice Council: www.acsjc.org.au
– Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office: www.acmro.catholic.org.au,
– Catholic Earthcare Australia: www.catholicearthcare.org.au,
– National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council: www.natsicc.org.au