The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), which works to eliminate the causes of poverty in the U.S., has had a significant impact on the Archdiocese of New Orleans through its outreach aimed at reducing violence and helping fishing communities recover from the BP oil spill, local CCHD director Tom Costanza said.
“One of the very interesting things we are doing locally is working with the Micah Project to examine the culture of violence,” said Costanza, who has joined Catholic priests and nuns and clergy of other denominations on Friday night “prayer walks” through the Lower 9th Ward.
“Part of the strategy is to engage people in conversation and pray with them in their neighborhoods,” Costanza said. “We hope to listen, pray and then take action.”
The CCHD annual collection “Fight poverty in America. Defend human dignity” will be Nov. 19-20 in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It supports local groups whose mission is to fight poverty and “defend human dignity,” Costanza said.
Seventy-five percent of the collection proceeds are forwarded to the national CCHD office and 25 percent remains in the archdiocese, Costanza said, but almost all of the national portion returned to the local area last year through grants to the Micah Project and The Jeremiah Group.
The Micah Project has focused on improving public education and health care. The “prayer walks” are a new strategy to learn how the broader-based church community can help improve the quality of life in low-income areas.
“We do about a two-mile sweep, but each time we go, the length of the walk is lessening and the time of engagement with people is increasing,” Costanza said. “The first night we walked the whole Lower 9, and there were many desolate spots. But we found the spots where people were, and now we’re beginning to know families and build trust.”
Some of the residents were skeptical at first, but they became more comfortable each week, conversing from their front porches. Among walk participants have been Franciscan Father Dennis Bosse, pastor of St. Mary of the Angels; Deacon Allen Stevens of St. Peter Claver; and Rev. Ike Mayfield, a Methodist minister.
The prayer walks are a prelude to the Micah Project’s national clergy caucus Nov. 14-17 in New Orleans.
In 2010, 46.2 million lived in poverty. Of those 46 million, Costanza said 20 million are in “deep poverty.” In New Orleans, the poverty rate is 65 percent for African-American children under the age of 5.
“That is morally unacceptable,” Costanza said.