The first step to aiding the poor is to stand with them, Jesuit Father Fred Kammer said in a lecture to Urban Plunge participants at the University of Notre Dame.
The Urban Plunge is a credit course offered to any student at Notre Dame by the Social Concerns Department. Its purpose is to demonstrate the problems of homelessness and poverty in the inner city. The core of the program is a 48 hour “urban plunge” during the Christmas vacation at a city near the student’s home. This plunge is preceded by several class periods and readings, and followed by another class period and a final paper.
Fr. Kammer’s lecture to the students, titled “Building Justice in the Cities,” addressed breaking the cycle of urban poverty. Kammer is currently is the executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute and has worked as the president of Catholic Charities USA.
“Making the invisible visible is the first step to compassion,” Kammer said. “Standing with the poor is a touchstone that gives us a wisdom that comes from the poor themselves and leads us to make judgments in favor of the poor.”
Kammer said taking a stand with the poor challenges our society’s dominant views.
“Standing with those who are poor introduces us to a new way of seeing the world around us,” he said. “This insistence on personal contact runs against our culture’s proclivity to see the poor as invisible or faceless.”
Kammer said once people make an initial commitment to stand with the poor, they might change the way they live their own lives.
“One of the first reactions that people have is to adopt a simpler lifestyle,” he said. “This choice is a stance appropriate to students. Individuals who stand with the poor also stand with them in their career choices whether by choosing to teach in inner-city schools instead of the suburbs or doing social work in place of commercial law.
You can read more about Kammer’s lecture and the Urban Plunge program via this article in the university’s Observer newspaper. Kammer’s lecture can be found on video at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concern’s website here.