KAIROS to dig deeper into plight of poor

By  Sara Loftson, The Catholic Register
  • February 2, 2007
TORONTO - How a community teaches a man to fish is the question Michael Polanyi wants churchgoers and low-income people to start discussing.

Polanyi, the social development co-ordinator for KAIROS, an interfaith social justice organization, is trying to recruit three churches in different areas of Toronto to meet with 15 to 20 low-income people from the neighbourhood for a series of three discussions.

People with low income would explain what their issues are and reflect on what's causing these problems, such as lack of housing or inadequate paid work. The church groups would then relay that information back to their congregation to put a face to poverty and understand the circumstances in which low-income people find themselves.

"There is a lot of work around alleviating the worst effects of poverty.... This project is to go beyond provisional food banks and Out of the Cold programs,"said Polanyi. 

"I have heard frustration with the ongoing programs that don't seem to reduce poverty – that more and more people seem to be relying on these programs."

Three churches were to have been selected by Feb. 2 with the program starting soon after.

By The Register's press time no Catholic churches had submitted a proposal to take part in this project.

Polanyi said he promoted the project mainly through e-mails and the project's steering committee. Of the eight people sitting on the committee there is no Catholic representative.  

Polanyi said he tried to contact Catholic churches and Catholic groups doing work with low-income people, but didn't find someone able to commit.

"We'll still be adding people to the committee so we have time to expand and broaden the representation."

David Walsh is a commercial real estate developer and co-founder with Sr. Susan Moran of 6 St. Joseph's Street, a centre for low-income people in Toronto. He attended some of the initial planning workshops for the project, but said he didn't have time to join the steering committee.  

"The Catholic Church hasn't done much in the way of poverty in the last 20 years... that's why we started up 6 St. Joseph Street,"said Walsh.  

"There hasn't been any leadership at the top. There were programs that have been shut down. There are individual churches doing things, but the call of Pope John Paul II has not been followed up in any meaningful way."

While Catholic initiatives such as Catholic Charities of the archdiocese of Toronto and  the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops' Social Affairs Commission are a few examples of the church's outreach to the poor, they don't have the profile they had 20 years ago, said Fr. Paul Hansen, C.Ss.R, chair of the board of KAIROS.   

"I think that the main line (religious) institutions are into survival mode so they're putting their resources into institutional survival and they are more concerned about that than they are concerned about the Gospel,"said Hansen. 

The year-long project is an attempt to move churches away from strictly providing charity to the poor to finding longer-term solutions by churches advocating for policy changes, to raising awareness in their neighbourhood and giving more voice to low-income people, said Polanyi.

"Churches are based in the community and they have a mandate to respond to people who are in need with compassion,"said Polanyi. 

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