Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Faith Day Attendees Explore Poverty, Ways To Respond

vFather Alex Zenthoefer, pastor of Evansville's Annunciation Parish, gives the keynote address "Poverty: Responding through Conversion" during Faith Day 2019 at Good Shepherd Parish.

It’s tempting to reduce poverty to a material problem, according to Father Alex Zenthoefer. But the pastor of Evansville’s Annunciation Parish said that’s simply not the case because by our very nature as human beings we’re all poor.

“We all depend, first of all, on our existence from God,” Father Zenthoefer said. “Secondly on God to respond to the needs we have – the desire for intimacy, the longing, the desire for hope – all those things we can’t give ourselves so we depend on other people and on God to provide those needs.”

To better understand poverty, about 130 people gathered at Good Shepherd Catholic Parish on March 9 for Faith Day 2019, which focused on “Walking with Those in Poverty.” Presenters explored many forms of poverty around us, including poverty of heart, poverty of understanding, and the real, tangible poverty suffered by many in our community; and they also discussed ways to respond to poverty.

If we don’t understand our own poverty, Father Zenthoefer said people will always treat material poverty as a social issue or problem that has to be fixed, rather than sharing life with people with whom we share the same poverty.

The event was a collaboration of Annunciation, Good Shepherd, Holy Rosary and St. Benedict parishes. The four pastors of those parishes – Father Zenthoefer, Father Zach Etienne, Father Bernie Etienne and Benedictine Father Godfrey Mullen – decided to expand on Holy Rosary’s popular Faith Day event.

The free event focused on encouraging responses to the Indiana Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, “Poverty at the Crossroads.” A committee consisting of members from all four parishes formed to help plan the nearly four-hour long event.

Organizers hope attendees came away with a “conversion of heart, followed by response to the poor in our local area.”

Sarah Mazzocco represented St. Ben’s on the committee. As vice president of the St. Ben’s chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Mazzocco said the agency’s volunteers – from parishes across the diocese – often visit the poor face-to-face.

“It’s something to tell someone what it’s like; but to actually experience it and know what it’s like (in-person) is another thing,” she said.

Mazzocco said a goal of Faith Day was to transform hearts and inspire people to get involved not just monetarily, but actively and volunteer to help the poor.

Father Zenthoefer kicked off the event with his keynote speech, “Poverty: Responding through Conversion.” Too often people first try to solve the issue of the poor, he said, and address the problem of money, resources or education. Father Zenthoefer challenged the group to start with their own hearts and poverty as a way to engage and accompany those in need.

“The goal is really to raise awareness in people’s minds about what poverty is because I think there are many misconceptions about what poverty looks like,” he said. “And to give people the tools to respond to that reality of poverty. And, maybe most importantly, to get people to conversion in their own hearts to recognize the poverty that we all have that often we don’t really acknowledge as poverty because we’re not at the roadside begging.”

Guest speaker Emily Parker led participants in an interactive poverty simulation, which gave them the chance to “walk in the shoes” of local people who are poor and struggling. Parker is a lifetime-certified Bridges Out of Poverty trainer who facilitates poverty simulations throughout Indiana and Ohio.

“I want people to come away, not with the assumption that all people who are poor are lazy, (but) that life happens to people,” she said. “One life event can throw any of us into a poverty situation. It’s kind of being above the line, then one thing happens and you find yourself below the line.”

The Faith Day event was one of the largest simulations Parker has facilitated, but she was thrilled so many people got the chance to experience it to help them better understand the families they serve.

For the simulation, each person was given a role to play, which included head of the household, manager of a soup kitchen, employee of a church or public-transportation representative. As the simulation unfolded, people had to figure out ways to make ends meets. About every 15 minutes Parker would blow a whistle, which signaled the start of a new day or month in which the person must use the resources they have to stay afloat.

“It really helps people to enter into the reality of what people around us are facing every day. … We can’t blame people for being stuck in a situation, so it’s better for us to understand what it is they’re going through,” Father Zenthoefer said.

Faith Day ended with practical advice from Evansville Christian Life Center Executive Director Gina Gibson. She also provided ways attendees can assist people who may need help.

The event was just the beginning of the conversation, according to Father Zenthoefer.

“We hope people will feel called to really educate themselves on the issues and discover how they can find their place in responding to the struggles so many people face,” he said.

The Message photo by Mergan Erbacher.