Buffalo bishops say region’s economic progress should also benefit immigrants and the poor

10 December 2014 • Persistent link: iarccum.org/?p=1530

The bishops of Buffalo’s Catholic and Episcopal dioceses have written a joint pastoral letter urging church members to help make sure immigrants, minorities and the poor, among others, share in the region’s economic progress.

While noting new development and revitalization in Buffalo, Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop R. William Franklin of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York said not everyone is benefitting.

“Blacks and Hispanics still live in poverty in greater proportion than do other groups in our population,” the two bishops wrote in the letter to distributed in churches this weekend. “Children still go to bed hungry. Jobs and security elude too many families.”

In what they called a pioneering letter, the two called on business and political leaders to “further all efforts to make opportunities for employment, training and advancement that grow out of this hopeful time of growth and expansion accessible to all.”

For all church members, “what we say and pray on Sundays must now go out into the world, into the workplace, to the ballot box and to the councils of government to ensure that Western New York becomes a more prosperous community, not only in dollars, but in our investment in each other,” they wrote.

The letter marks the first time a Catholic bishop from Buffalo, leader of more than half a million Catholics, and the Episcopal bishop, who leads about 19,000 members, issued a joint pastoral letter.

The bishops picked the timing – the third Sunday of Advent – to deliver the Joint Pastoral Letter on the Renewal of Western New York to underline its importance.

“This is consistent with both our churches’ teachings for centuries,” Malone said. “It speaks to the relationship of the church with the modern world. We see it as a time for breaking down barriers and answering the question, Who is my neighbor?”

Franklin said they decided to sign the letter together as a personal signal that the time has come to put aside differences and divisions.

“This is a historic thing that we are doing through our diocese,” he said.

“When bishops issue a pastoral letter, it is meant to be read,” he said. “It’s not like my blog. It is a solemn moment when bishops speak out like this.”

A portion of the letter celebrates Buffalo’s economic progress, noting the city “is on the brink of unprecedented prosperity: new business, new investment, new construction. This is the time for which we have all waited and prayed and worked.”

But just this fall, amid the towering cranes at construction sites and during groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings, the latest Census report hit with a thud.

For the first time in at least a decade, the majority of Buffalo children live in poverty.

The poverty rate for the city’s children under 18 increased from 45 percent in 2012 to 50.6 percent in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Some 29,726 of the city’s 58,722 children under 18 live in poverty, according to the Census estimate. That’s the third highest poverty rate for children among the nation’s 75 biggest cities, according to a Buffalo News analysis of the data.

The city’s overall poverty rate nudged upward as well, even as the nation’s poverty rate declined for the first time since 2006. Buffalo’s overall poverty rate increased from 30.9 percent in 2012 to 31.4 percent in 2013. In 2005, the poverty rate was 26.9 percent.

Malone said many people have already made efforts to reach out to the poor, help people find work and empower women. Still, he said, more needs to be done.

“Too many barriers remain. It is like there is a wedge in the community,” he said.

The release of the joint letter during Advent was long planned. But it also comes in the same week that three dozen members of the Concerned Clergy Coalition of Western New York, many of them African American, gathered on the steps of City Hall to address the need locally as well as nationally to pursue social justice and an end to racism.

The clergy announced a rally will be held at noon Saturday in Niagara Square, at which time their plans for a better and safer Western New York will be presented.

The two bishops applauded the clergy’s appeal and said they would find ways to make their support known.

“We want people to see that the church is a natural place to be talking about these issues,” Malone said.

The timing of the pastoral letter also resonates amid the local and national protests over grand jury decisions not to indict the police officers who sought to arrest Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island. The unarmed black men died in confrontations with the police officers.

“Our whole nation is part of this debate now. There is a national call for justice,” Franklin said.

“We want to raise the consciousness among our own parishioners,” Malone said, “asking, from a position of humility, that we want the new hope in our area to be inclusive.”

Their collaboration is a first step, Franklin said, that they expect will extend to the wider church community, “to create a new city beyond just the hotels and apartment buildings and restaurants – a city of justice.”

“We see this moment, in terms of diversity and economics, as a chance to strengthen the whole human condition,” Malone said. “We don’t want to let this opportunity pass.”

In their letter, the bishops reflected on the region’s history as a “pioneering place for those who knew that justice, freedom, peace and dignity reap their own benefits.”

“We ask you now to be pioneers again in supporting efforts to maximize the strengths and gifts of those – all women and all men, native-born and immigrants – who offer their skills and their desire to prosper and make our region prosper once again,” the two said.