BY CHRIS KERR | July 1, 2014
Did you know that in West Virginia’s McDowell County the life expectancy is 68.4 years (76 years is the nationwide average)? Or that in Louisiana’s East Carroll Parish the unemployment rate is 15.7% (6.3% nationwide)?
These were a few of the facts I discovered while looking through a recently published map in the New York Times they titled, “Where Are the Hardest Places to Live in the U.S.?” I might give it a different name, maybe something like, “Where are my brothers and sisters struggling?” or “Thought things were challenging in your community?” The map illustrates the vast differences between family incomes, education and access to medical care that exist throughout the United States. The earlier mentioned 68.4 year life expectancy in McDowell County, West Virginia ranks them below a number of our neighbors in Central America who are struggling with poverty like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In Jefferson County, Mississippi, the median household income is $20,281, well below the 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines for a family of four ($23,550).
What is life like for our neighbor?
It only takes a few minutes of looking at the map to see that many families in our country our struggling with challenging realities. While your own county may be prospering with high incomes, lots of education, and positive health indicators; this may not be true for those who live nearby. What is the situation of those in adjacent counties and states?
It’s probably not surprising that Pope Francis has something to say about how we treat our neighbor:
To live as true children of God means to love our neighbor and to be close to those who are lonely and in difficulty.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) July 1, 2014
Love your neighbor. Be in solidarity with those who are struggling. Francis’ words come straight from the Gospels, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27). As we explore resources like this map, we grow in our sense of the realities confronting our “neighbors” across the U.S. What hurdles are created to living life more fully when families are inhibited by unemployment and a lack of access to healthcare and education? Where are people in difficulty?
Faith in Action
“Love is shown more in deeds than in words.”
― St. Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius teaches us that our faith is one of “action.” We must seek to act on our love of God and our brothers and sisters, while constantly experiencing, praying, and discerning next steps. The realities that many face in our country illustrate the need to continue taking action through acts of service, works of mercy, and as advocates for justice. How can we be people of solidarity with those struggling in our own communities, with those highlighted here, and with those far beyond our borders?
Chris joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) as executive director in 2011. He has over fifteen years of experience in social justice advocacy and leadership in Catholic education and ministry. Prior to ISN he served in multiple roles at John Carroll University, including coordinating international immersion experience and social justice education programming as an inaugural co-director of John Carroll’s Arrupe Scholars Program for Social Action. Prior to his time at John Carroll he served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and secondary levels in Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. Chris speaks regularly at campuses and parishes about social justice education and advocacy, Jesuit mission, and a broad range of social justice issues. He currently serves on the board of directors for Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ). Chris earned a B.A. and M.A. from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. He and his family reside in Shaker Heights, Ohio.