Most Catholics who have been in the trenches fighting for the poor either know Fr. Raymond Kemp’s project “Preaching the Just Word” and know Fr. Kemp himself. So, it only made sense, when CACG wanted a prominent Catholic leader to encourage the bishops to echo Pope Francis’ call for a “poor Church for the poor,” at our press conference during the USCCB meeting, we turned to Fr. Kemp to address this issue so close to the heart of our mission, so close to the heart of the Gospels.
I am Father Raymond Kemp, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, on an extended assignment first to the Woodstock Theological Center and now to Georgetown University. I direct the Preaching the Just Word project and have for twenty-one years. I teach undergrads two Theology classes on the poor and race, and graduate students in our McDonough School of Business Executive Masters in Leadership for DC Public School Principals. I pastored two historic African – American parishes in DC, and most of what I know about policy and good sense comes from those faithful folks.
I am here to encourage the US Bishops in their centuries old efforts to preach the Gospel with the poor and to the poor, and to make sure that the whole Church continues to hear and act on that Gospel that is Good News for the Poor. From the days of Baltimore’s Cardinal Gibbons making clear to Pope Leo XIII that the rights of working people should be protected by governments and insured by labor unions, to this day when Cardinal Dolan has asked Speaker Boehner to insure immigration reform be passed by the Congress for Christmas, our Bishops have been bold proponents of putting the Gospel to work in pulpits, in public fora, in legislative assemblies and in political party platforms. Thank God we do not shrink from the task.
My earnest hope and expectation is that our good bishops hear Pope Francis’ insistent call to preach mercy for the poor and the unemployed, the sick and the hungry, and to know that their parishes -- our parishes-- are working diligently to welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, cure the uninsured sick and clothe the naked. And not just here in the United States but in our support for parish twinning with the less well off here, in the Caribbean, in Mexico, and in Central and South America. There are even efforts across the oceans bearing fruit. This work is in addition to our Catholics working and supporting Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and Catholic Relief Services here at home. And on local levels this work of helping the poor is an ecumenical and inter-religious effort with churches, synagogues, mosques and charitable institutions and local governments. We are no strangers in the halls of Congress or the Executive Branch, for we are a significant provider of services to all of God’s children here.
I want to lift up a special report from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) from ten years ago on the Solidarity that Pope John Paul II had requested after a Synod on the Americas. Almost twenty percent of the responding parishes indicated that they had opened up so called ‘sister’ relationships with parishes to our South and another ten percent with poorer parishes more locally. These relationships had elements of mutuality based on shared prayer and worship and significant contributions of persons volunteering and giving. I could go on and on about this largely untold effort that makes real for our US parishioners the challenges of living with reduced nutrition assistance and sub-human housing and health care here and abroad. Our pastors and our people know the cries of the poor and the limitations of their own best efforts. I want our preaching to double the numbers of parishes who meet the poor directly and are then more likely to advocate for God’s justice to flow like a mighty stream.