NEW YORK – As masks come off and the U.S. begins to move past the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardinal Blase Cupich wants Catholics to stay vigilant about social issues that continue to plague the nation, always putting the poor and marginalized first.

“Whatever the project, however complex the issue or how enormous the challenge, the starting point must be a deep and loving respect for the poor, uniting with them, accompanying them, and encountering them with an appreciation for their creative capacity to pursue the life God has always intended for them,” Cupich, the Archbishop of Chicago, said Friday.

Cupich made the remarks as part of a keynote address to attendees of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) 50th anniversary virtual gathering.

In his address, he noted the “striking” similarities between the social unrest of the past year and the time when the campaign was founded.

“Just as the events in the church and society of the late 60’s created momentum for the campaign, the confluence of this past year’s crises compels us to redouble our efforts, to examine the social and economic issues in light of fostering human development,” Cupich said.

“This is an opportunity to reimagine how we live together. How we work, govern, educate, and invest in individuals and neighborhoods and develop ways for people to succeed, for parishes to strive, and communities to prosper,” he continued.

The chief societal issue that Cupich mentioned was the sin of racism that “continues to erode our national soul.” That, combined with the “longstanding inequities exacerbated by the pandemic,” Cupich said, “demand attention and action.”

He also noted that even in a growing economy it’s important to recognize those that “fall through the cracks” economically. And “unity that fosters diversity” is key to fixing stifling the increasing political polarization, he said.

As the virtual gathering continued other presenters discussed ways the campaign, Catholic organizations and the lay faithful can continue to move forward social just issues. Like Cupich, they emphasized focusing on the poor, marginalized and oppressed.

Sister Julia Walsh, a CCHD intern with the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity noted that while religiosity and religious affiliation continue to decline across the country other social movements, such as the Black Lives Matter movement from last summer, remain strong.

“That to me is a great sign of the times,” Walsh said. “We need to as a church listen to those who are oppressed. Those who are poor and let them change our hearts, be in relationships with them, and follow their lead as they work for the justice that they need so they can flourish.”

She added that in a similar sense it’s important for the youth that are privileged to encounter the youth on the margins and follow their lead.

For Gabby Trejo, executive director of Sacramento ACT (Area Congregation Together) – a multi-faith organization that works to create a fairer and just community in the Sacramento area through congregation-based community organizing – accountability of elected officials is also important.

She recognizes that government officials came through with funding once the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated societal injustices, but claims that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

“Now we have to follow the money and make sure that the money is used in the ways that we imagined,” Trejo said. “This is an emergency now but we want to have healthy communities for the long term, which means we have to save this fight always.”

“This really is a marathon so accountability to me is a big piece of the of the questions we need to ask as a community,” she continued.

Like the others, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, the secretary of the International Catholic Migration Commission, also acknowledged the importance of focusing on the poor and marginalized. However, he did so from a different angle.

He noted that the privileged should now recognize how important a role the poor and marginalized play in the country for our everyday lives.

“COVID has really overturned things,” said Vitillo, who led the CCHD from 1997-2005. “We see that the very people who were seen as not so important – the informal workers, the people without documents – became the essential workers during this time of COVID.”

“So, those of us who are privileged have a lot to learn about their strength and their resilience,” he continued.

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