NEW YORK – A campaign to encourage Congress to redirect military spending towards helping the nation’s poor and marginalized has gotten support from 17 American bishops, a number those leading the campaign hope to see continue to grow.

In December, Congress passed the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which allocated $883.7 billion in national defense spending. The total is more than $25 billion higher than the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act allocation of $857.9 billion.

For decades, Catholic peace advocacy organization Pax Christi USA through its “Bread Not Stones” campaign has advocated for Congress to allocate more of that money to other areas of the federal government’s budget that will help the poor and marginalized.

The campaign takes its name from a question Jesus asks his followers in Matthew 7:9: “Which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give them a stone?”

For the current version of the campaign, however, the focus has shifted. While still advocating to the federal government, the campaign is also directed at the nation’s Catholic leaders in an attempt to get them to become more outspoken about the “scandal of unfettered military spending.”

Specifically, they’re inviting American bishops to sign on to the campaign. A spokesperson for the organization told Crux that as of Jan. 3 they’ve reached out to about 80 American bishops, of which 17 have signed on to the campaign, including two cardinals and two archbishops. The organization intends to reach out to every bishop, the spokesperson said.

The two cardinals who have signed onto the statement are Cardinal Robert McElroy of San Diego and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, both of whom declined a Crux request for comment.

In a statement to Crux, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, the Pax Christi USA National Council President, highlighted the discrepancy between weapons spending and funding for social programs.

“Pax Christi USA sees the US military budget, especially the part earmarked for weapons development, as offering stones when so many social programs in the US are underfunded, resulting in poor nutrition and hunger in our country,” Stowe said.

“In the recently concluded Advent season we heard the dream of the Prophet Isaiah about the day when nations would beat their swords into plowshares,” Stowe continued. “We seem ever farther from that day with state-sponsored violence increasing day by day. It is time for followers of the Prince of Peace to work harder for the realization of this prophecy.”

The FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act includes $24 billion for the activities of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Money will also go towards the establishment of hypersonic weapons, nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missiles, and nuclear weapons development programs.

One aspect of the bill that got widespread support, is a 5.2% pay raise for troops, which is the biggest increase in more than two decades.

According to Department of Treasury data last updated Nov. 30, the federal government has spent $1.06 trillion so far in FY 2024, which began on Oct. 1, 2023. Of that money $158 billion has gone towards national defense (15 percent). Meanwhile, $36 billion has gone towards education training, employment, and social services (3 percent), the data shows.

The only category the government has spent more money on than national defense is social security.

Johnny Zokovitch, the executive director of Pax Christi USA, told Crux in a statement that the organization is grateful for the support of the American bishops who have signed onto the campaign to encourage Congress to rethink the way it allocates the federal budget.

“Pax Christi USA is grateful for the 17 U.S. bishops who have signed our Bread Not Stones statement, taking a clear, public stance to call out the immoral and outrageous military budget that depletes the funds necessary for human needs,” Zokovitch said.

Zokovitch added that they will continue to call on Church leaders who declined to sign for support.

“We’re also committed to continuing to raise up the call of Pope Francis to our church leaders who declined to sign, calling on them to say an unequivocal ‘no’ to weapons manufacturers and warmakers and make explicit that our church stands with those who are poor and those who are in need,” Zokovitch said.

“Such a stance is perfectly aligned with the message at the heart of the gospel, especially as we celebrate this Christmas season, and our Church needs to hear this preached boldly from those in leadership,” he said.

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