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Tuesday 27 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Vincent de Paul
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Venerable Fulton Sheen on giving to panhandlers

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Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 04/03/17

Last week, Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin caused a stir with this Facebook post: 

Three Reasons Not to Give to Panhandlers 1) Throwing some loose change at a panhandler while passing by is demeaning of his or her human dignity. While it might make us feel better, in fact it sustains a very unhealthy and degrading lifestyle. Our community has legitimate and structured means of helping the poor and needy. We should support those. 2) It can be a very real safety hazard, endangering the individuals on the curb or in the street asking for help, as well as for passing motorists and pedestrians. 3) It is a practice that enables a few dishonest individuals to prey upon the compassion of others to ask for money, even when they don’t have legitimate needs. Pope Francis has said: “The great danger, or temptation, when aiding the poor, is falling into an attitude of protective paternalism that, at the end of the day, does not allow them to grow. A Christian’s obligation is to integrate the most deprived into the community in whatever way possible, but definitely to integrate them.”

I was instantly reminded of this story, told by Joan Sheen Cunningham, the niece of Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

People would stop him all the time. They’d want to shake his hand. He’d always take an interest in whoever walked up, taking the time to greet them. He always welcomed them, and was never short with anyone. He was just my uncle back then, it didn’t dawn on me until later that he was a celebrity. Since he was known for his generosity, people would often come up to ask him for money, telling him how they were down on their luck. He’d hand them $20. I’d ask him, “How do you know that they’re not putting you on; that they really need help?” He’d answer, “I can’t take the chance.” He had a great love for the poor. When he served as national director for the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (1950-66), he visited the missions in Africa, and was distressed by the poverty he saw. He’d say, “Oh, if you could see the poor souls there.” As much as he loved teaching, I think the highlight of his career was being director of the Society, so he could help those people and the missionaries who served them. When he was made bishop of Rochester, he would regularly go to the homes of poor people to celebrate Mass. He was criticized because if a school there had low enrollment, he’d want to close it, sell the property, and give the money to the poor. He saw how the poor in Rochester were in need of medical care, so he wanted to supply a medical van, staff it with doctors and nurses, and drive it to parts of town where the poor needed help. He went to a local hospital with the idea, but they wouldn’t help him. Attitudes were different back then. There was not the stress on helping the poor like there is today. My uncle always worried about the poor. He was also kind to outcasts. I remember one man that was disfigured by leprosy who always came to his radio broadcasts. People in the audience would see the man, cringe at his appearance and move away from him. My uncle would say to me, “Joan, go over and talk to that man, he’s very nice.”
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