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  • Jack H. Bender

Caring for the Poor is not Optional

A basic moral test of society is how its most vulnerable members are faring.

It is clear that we are failing that test.

January is Poverty Awareness Month. Contemplating and taking action to reduce poverty are very good ways to start the new year. Judaism and Islam have laws that require practicing members of their faith to care for the poor, sick and imprisoned. Laws are non-negotiable. They must be obeyed.

Christians who take their tradition seriously act similarly.The Christian tradition calls its members to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first” (Mt. 25:31-46). Catholics have a history of social teaching that goes back centuries and provides a compelling challenge for living responsibly and building a just society. There are several key themes at the heart of their social justice tradition:

Life and Dignity of the Human Person

We proclaim that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.

Call to Family, Community, and Participation

The person is not only sacred but also social. How we organize our society in economics and politics, in law and policy directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.

Rights and Responsibilities

Our tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected, and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.

Preferential Option for the Poor

In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition instructs us to put the needs of poor and vulnerable people first. (Option doesn’t mean optional; rather, putting the vulnerable first is always an option.)

The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers

The economy must serve people, not the other way around.


We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.

Care for God’s Creation

We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation.

If your beliefs are not centered in the Christian tradition, Judaism or Islam, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be a worthy guide.


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