If we forget the poor and vulnerable this holiday season, we forget those who give Christmas its meaning. Christmas is rich in traditions that invite us to care for the less fortunate. The symbols of the season — the manger scene, the music and carols, the lights shining in the winter darkness, and even Jolly Old St. Nicholas — are powerful reminders to share with those in need.
The circumstances of our Lord's birth were marked by poverty. Our Savior was first found among the poor and forgotten people. It was the poor shepherds, scorned by many, who were first invited to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. They found Him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, in the little stable in Bethlehem.
Listen carefully to the words of Christmas carols. "Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king: Do you know what I know? In your palace warm, mighty king, Do you know what I know? A Child, a Child shivers in the cold...." Too many children will shiver in the cold this holiday season.
The poor and the less fortunate were particularly dear to St. Nicholas, who was loved for his kindness, humility and charity. During his life, St. Nicholas took care of orphans, widows, and those who were persecuted. He often went about his good work in secret, expecting nothing in return. The life and legend of St. Nicholas teach an important holiday lesson.
The prophet Isaiah wrote, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.... For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace."
Christmas is a holiday of light; we welcome the Christ Child as Lord, the true light of the world, bringing hope to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lonely and the troubled. Indeed, poverty never takes a holiday.
As a recent holiday survey of more than seventy Catholic Charities agencies shows us, the nation's most vulnerable populations — the working poor, homeless and seniors — increasingly need more help to meet their basic needs. According to the survey, 81% of our agencies reported an increase in need from the working poor; 64% cited an increase in the number of families seeking help; and 52% are seeing more seniors in need.
In 2005, 82% have experienced an increase in requests for financial assistance; 69% found an increase in requests for aid in making rent or mortgage payments; 59% reported an increase in the need for food; 48% cited an increase in the need for temporary housing; and 39% reported an increase in the need for prescription assistance.
Overall, nearly three out of four agencies (74%) said they believe it will be more difficult to meet the needs of the people they serve this holiday season because the need for service is greater than in the past.
The survey also tells us that the greatest needs of Catholic Charities' clients this holiday season continue to be financial assistance, food and housing. Families simply do not earn enough to make ends meet.
These survey results are a stark reminder that there is a great need for donations to help Catholic Charities serve families in need. I invite you to remember the poor this Christmas and throughout the New Year. Pray for relief of the poor; give your time and talents; and share your treasure with your local Catholic Charities.
- Father Snyder is the president of Catholic Charities USA.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)