In a post on X-Twitter one of our Cardinals asked for prayers as all the bishops meet together to discuss the causes of poverty.

That they need to discuss this and don’t already have the answers is rather disconcerting. Kind of like a group of dentists getting together to figure out the causes of toothache.

Well, if I may be so bold, I’d like to share a story from my own experience. My parish is in the most economically challenging area of our mostly prosperous city. The area around the parish is made up of low income, high density housing, run down hotels that serve transient and otherwise homeless people and in the further reaches genuinely shocking rural poverty.

We have an active St Vincent de Paul Society that runs a busy food pantry, a referral center for folks to get long term assistance and lay run charity to offer grants and subsidies for folks and a pro active scholarship program in our parish school for low income ethnic minority families as well as scholarship assistance for our parishioners.

So I got together with the pastor of the Church of Christ which is just around the corner from our campus. This is a local, African American community and the pastor was a young black guy in his thirties who was employed as a carpet fitter to work his way through Bible college to prepare for full time ministry. I invited him and his people to participate with us in our food pantry and outreach to the needy. Here’s what he said:

“Brother, I’m glad y’all are doing this work, but we’re not gonna be involved.”

“Why not?”

“We don’t give people stuff.”


“We don’t give people stuff. That’s not what we’re here for. We give them Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life. That’s what we give them if they want help. Then if they really get him, they will soon have everything else. You know the verse ‘Seek first the kingdom f God and everything else will be added to you.'”

“I know that verse. I memorized it as a kid.”

“‘Course you did.” (I don’t think he totally believed me.)

“So if one of these unemployed drug addicts comes to Jesus and joins our church you know what? Before long Jesus begins to change him and our church helps. Maybe some other former addicts help him get away from the drugs. Then one of our brothers offers him a job and one of our families maybe offers him a place to live. Then he meets one of our beautiful women and they get married and have some kids. Before long, they’re saving up and buying a house. So we don’t give people stuff.”

Now far be it from me to suggest such a simplistic solution to a complex social problem, but in fact, was this not the solution discovered by the very first Christians and hasn’t it been the solution shown by generation after generation of Christian missionary enterprise? People are converted to Christ, then their lives begin to change, then their families, their communities and their society.

Yes, I accept that “giving people stuff” is also part of the church’s mission and the smart people might also give some advice on changing the structures of society to address underlying societal causes of poverty, but a Church that is only giving people stuff and not sharing the gospel isn’t really going to change the real cause of poverty.