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This will be my last column in The Pilot. As I announced in my column last month, I am leaving Catholic Charities in late August to become CEO of Boston Rising, a new anti-poverty grant maker here in Boston. It is a challenge I feel called to accept. As with leaving Catholic Charities, writing this last column is bittersweet. You have been wonderful readers, and I will miss you. Thank you for your attention, your feedback and your thoughtful support of Catholic Charities' work over these last three years.
Most people have never had a newspaper column, so you probably don't realize how difficult it is to choose one's last subject. I even procrastinated for a week. The truth is, though, that through this column, I have learned a lot about what you believe and what Catholics in this archdiocese believe about the poor and about social justice. So, in my farewell, I would like to share with you a little bit about what I believe.
First, to steal a phrase from someone I met once, I believe "the poor will always be with us, but the same people shouldn't always be poor." Our country was built on the promise, indeed the assumption, that we are a meritocracy. For a variety of reasons having to do with employment patterns, spending-based poverty policies, the cost of private education and the quality of free education, the barriers to getting capital, and the compounding effects of already having it, our meritocracy no longer functions. A public policy push in the Commonwealth and at the national level that seeks to restore the machinery that makes a meritocracy really work is not only possible, but could be done in a bi-partisan way.
Second, I believe we have a special window open to develop broad-based, public will around fighting poverty, but that window is closing. The economic downturn created a sense of shared vulnerability. Think back to 2008 and 2009. The prevailing sentiment was "this could happen to me," or "no one is safe." While I hate for anyone to have to go through that, it gave more people sympathy for what it is like to be poor and vulnerable, and also slid many into the realm of personal empathy based on their own experiences.
Our hearts move from sympathy, to empathy, to action. While our political conversations in the last four to six years have abandoned the poor entirely, our personal experiences have created something quite different -- an ability and willingness to think and do something about poverty in our own back yards. We must take advantage of this moment while it exists. We never stop talking about education, defense, public safety...not in public, and not around the dinner table. Poverty and opportunity should be added to that list, and if we make a concerted effort right now, it can be.
Third, I believe we will fail to talk effectively about poverty if we do not end what I think of as our current 'Uncivil War.' A solid democracy relies on solid public discourse. We must respectfully debate the issues. We must be free to disagree vehemently, but civilly. We also must be free to agree with unlikely allies. In an environment where none of these things is possible, nothing can get done.
We are in a moral moment. People are unemployed and suffering. Government does not have the resources to solve this problem now, and will not in the foreseeable future. It is upon the citizenry to do so. If our environment completely kills our ability to work together, however, we cannot respond to the moral task before us.
Finally, I believe our capacity for generosity, compassion and solidarity are boundless. In my work at Catholic Charities, I have been amazed and heartened by the way people give of their hearts, their time and their resources. There is no question in my mind that this Commonwealth, this archdiocese and its people can change the game for the vulnerable and marginalized if we have the will. We can.
It has been a privilege to talk with you over these years. Thank you for everything you do.
Tiziana C. Dearing is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.