NEW ORLEANS (CNS): It took the worst natural and man-made disaster in American history – Hurricane Katrina and the levee breaches that inundated New Orleans with water in 2005 – to expose previously hidden levels of poverty in the richest country in the world, a Catholic bishop said September 25.
Retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn made the comments at the 2008 annual gathering of Catholic Charities USA.
In accepting the Vision Award from Catholic Charities USA for his four decades in Catholic social services, the former president of Catholic Charities USA praised the response of the U.S. church to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and to Hurricanes Gustav and Ike this September.
But having 37 million Americans living below the poverty line is unacceptable and represents a clear imperative for change, he said.
Citing the Reverend James Forbes, the retired rector of Riverside Church in New York City, Bishop Sullivan said “Lady Katrina” was “a prophetess who revealed to us the two Americas, the haves and the have-nots, the white America and the America of color.”
“Both were affected by the storm,” Bishop Sullivan said, “but the America of color much more severely. … Lady Katrina revealed, as no other event in recent history, the tragic confluence of racism and poverty that exists in our nation’s cities.”
Bishop Sullivan, 78, said while 8 per cent of white Americans live below the poverty line, 24 percent of African-Americans, 22 percent of Hispanics and 23 percent of Native Americans are poor.
He said the Catholic Charities USA report, “Poverty in America,” refers to poverty as an “unnatural disaster” created by individuals and society.
“Lady Katrina challenges us to wake up to acknowledge the reality and injustices of poverty in our country and together with the poor to take action to shape the social and economic policies that will reduce poverty by half by 2020,” he said.
Bishop Sullivan praised the regional Catholic Charities staffers in Louisiana and Mississippi for “outstanding” leadership after Katrina and Rita.
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