Cardinal sinks his own money into mini-bank for poor

22 Apr 2009

By The Record

Naples cardinal launches microcredit institution.                                


Italian Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe with Pope Benedict, venerating a relic of St Januarius. Photo: CNS


By Cindy Wooden
ROME (CNS) – Saying he wanted to give Easter hope to those “crucified on the cross of selfishness,” Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples announced he was setting up a microcredit lending institution and donating a year’s stipend and part of his savings to start it.
At a press conference April 8, Cardinal Sepe announced he was using about $65,000 of his own money to establish a “bank of the poor” and he asked the faithful of the archdiocese to give what they could.
The cardinal also asked the deans of each area of the archdiocese to work with pastors to conduct a census of those in their neighborhood in need of food, clothing and help paying rent and utility bills. Diocesan and parish soup kitchens and food and clothing banks would be strengthened according to need, he said.
Explaining the initiative in a pastoral letter for Holy Week, the cardinal said that, with the global economic crisis and the high unemployment rates in Naples, Christians find it difficult to imagine “the joy of the Resurrection because we have in front of us a crowd of hungry people who, like sheep without a shepherd, are asking for bread.”
Just in Campania, the region that includes Naples, he said, 200,000 jobs have been lost because of the economic crisis; “200,000 families from our marvelous and martyred land are asking for bread and that number is added to the already large number of people living in situations of extreme poverty,” the cardinal wrote.
“I hear their cry. I listen to them every day during parish meetings or as I read the letters they write, and I ask myself if one can remain insensitive to so much pain and suffering.
“Could a father plug his ears or tell them to go somewhere else for food? Can a bishop, a witness of Christ, be indifferent to so many who ask for help and compassion?” he said.
“As pastor of my beloved flock, I will take the first step toward an ethics of solidarity, giving part of my personal savings and a year’s stipend to open the ‘bank of the poor’ fund,” he said.
Cardinal Sepe said the new project would be named after Cardinal Sisto Riario Sforza, archbishop of Naples in 1845-1877, a member of an important and wealthy Italian family, who opened the archbishop’s residence to people left homeless after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the 1860s and who gave away his personal fortune to help the poor of the archdiocese in the 1870s.
The fund, Cardinal Sepe said, would give priority to young people struggling to find a job and to those who recently have lost their jobs.
“Far from being a handout, microcredit will help the creativity and ingenuity of our people emerge,” he wrote in his pastoral letter.
“Giving microcredit to someone who cannot offer a guarantee other than the promise to pay the money back interest-free with small payments over time means having the courage to believe in men and women and to trust in the possibility of multiplying loaves and fishes,” like Jesus did, he said.
The archdiocese said the regulations for determining eligibility to receive funds and instructions for applying for the loans would be published after a period of fundraising.