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Do not just pray for the poor but actually help them out

By Kenneth Kowald

This is about Pope Francis and a lovely human being named Claudia.

The late Claudia Kaire Didul was the wife of a U.S. Army buddy of mine. Bill Didul grew up on Crescent Street in Long Island City and was the staff artist when I edited the weekly newspaper at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Claudia grew up in a house near 112th Street in Richmond Hill, a block from Forest Park. Her father was a native of Latvia. Her mother was from New Jersey. They were Episcopalians and Claudia and Bill were married in the Church of the Resurrection in Richmond Hill. I was a member of the wedding party.

Bill and Claudia had met at an advertising agency. Bill got his degree from Cooper Union and had a successful career as an artist. I was honored to be godfather to their two daughters and son. For many years, they lived in Ardsley in Westchester County and Claudia would say, when calling the kids, that she “had the loudest voice in southern Westchester County.”

She continued to be a faithful and active Episcopal parishioner, although she found one rector of her church to be out of date, to say the least. Bill was a sometime attendee. The children were regulars.

I am writing about Claudia and Francis because I think they would have liked each other.

One Sunday, Claudia told Elaine and me, the rector announced that — and I think I have this quote correctly — “The bishop has asked us to pray for the poor.”

Claudia was furious.

Read that announcement again and you can see why.

One of the things Claudia and others had done was a “midnight patrol” once a week to bring food and other necessary items to the homeless in Manhattan. They did not need the bishop to ask them to pray for the poor or to help those in need.

I was reminded of Claudia and her outreach to the least of these when the Roman Catholic bishops held their annual meeting recently in New Orleans.

The only article I read about it, so far, had the headline “U.S. bishops seek to match Vatican in shifting tone.” You can check it out. It was in the June 12 New York Times.

No bishops from the tri-state area are quoted, although I am sure they were there. The sentiments of those quoted seem to be fairly universal.

Bishop Blase J. Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, said he owns no furniture and lives in a room in a seminary. He is making sure his diocesan budget emphasizes assisting the poor.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, of Tucson, Arizona, said his agenda now focuses on poverty, homelessness, addiction, violence and immigration and he is mindful of his own spending.

Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, of New Orleans, said, “We don’t, perhaps, at times talk enough about the poor, about the economy and we don’t perhaps talk enough about reaching out to those with disabilities, those whose voices are not heard.”

Francis took the name of a rich young man who abandoned all his worldly possessions to devote himself and his followers to those in need. It would seem that what Francis is saying and doing may be resonating with his followers, on the highest levels of the church hierarchy.

I think Claudia Kaire Didul would like that. She did not need her bishop to tell her to pray and work for the poor. She and Francis, I think, are within six or fewer degrees of connections to the world around them, then and now.

Whether we profess a faith or not, it seems to me, we cannot and should not ignore the world around us.

We should be helping “the least of these.” Certainly in this, the richest country in the history of the world, that is not a goal beyond reach. Surely, in the city in the center of the universe it is something to strive for.

It is not a handout. It is a hand up, I believe.

Read my blog, No Holds Barred, at timesledger.com.

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