While I was growing up as a youngster in Chicago, poverty, even though it was my next door neighbor, wasn't on my radar screen. I read about the poor. I heard about the poor. I prayed for the poor, but I didn't know the poor. The privilege of becoming acquainted with truly poor people didn't occur until the sixth year of my priestly ministry. Then I was assigned to a parish in the inner-city where the poor made their home. What blessings came my way for the next 13 and a half years when poor people were my parishioners and neighbors.

Back then it was not at all uncommon to blame the plight of the poor on the poor themselves. Many of us in those days had friends and relatives who regularly proclaimed that poor and low-income people needed to help themselves, just like everyone else. Ignorance, laziness and immorality had to be rooted out of these communities and then things would get better. The prophetic voices that called our attention to the inhuman working and living conditions, unjust wages, poor quality of education, violence and fear in local neighborhoods of the poor were largely unheeded. Fortunately some members of our Catholic community recognized these challenges to human dignity faced by the poor and decided to do something about them.

Thirty-four years ago, the Catholic Church here in the United States established the Catholic Campaign for Human Development as a way to put our faith into action. All Catholics in this nation were invited to participate in an annual collection that would aim to build solidarity between poor and low-income people and those with greater access to financial resources. The proceeds of this annual CCHD collection would be directed to support community-based, self-help groups that were initiated and led by low-income people who were trained to become local leaders and to promote positive social change in their communities. Such assistance would begin to make it possible for poor people themselves to do something about eliminating the conditions that made them and kept them poor.

Over the years CCHD has been able to support some 4,000 such projects with $260 million in national grants. Here in the Archdiocese of Portland, we have received many such grants, which have helped our people succeed in gaining access to affordable housing, improving local schools, securing jobs at living wages and many other positive initiatives. It is your generosity that has made all this possible.

'Break the cycle of poverty - build community.' Those words summarize rather accurately the goal of CCHD. The self-perpetuating cycle of poverty is caused by social conditions, not by the poor people themselves. When I was a youngster, my mom would regularly take the neck of the chicken when the meat platter was passed around the table at Sunday dinner. She said she liked it. The truth was she liked us and wanted us to grow healthy and strong. Who really likes the neck of the chicken? Not even our mothers!

Poor families are always eating the neck of the chicken, not because they like it or want to help anyone else grow strong and healthy, but because they have no other choice. CCHD does much more than provide meatier chickens to satisfy short-term fixes for the hunger pains of the poor. It attempts to fund and provide long-term solutions that will break the cycle of poverty, a tragedy which is never resolved by a hand-out. CCHD provides a hand up.

An important part of the mission of CCHD is to educate people about U.S. poverty facts and to encourage our fellow citizens to work together to eliminate poverty, not for a day, but for always. Amazingly one out of every six children and nearly one out of every 10 families live in poverty in these United States. To make matters worse, poverty in the USA is on the rise. The U.S. Census Bureau uses a complex equation to measure 'official poverty.' Income is measured against what is called the 'measure of need,' or the poverty threshold. A family is considered to be 'in poverty' if the total family income doesn't match the threshold appropriate for that family.

For example, back in 2002 a family of five with two children and three adults was assigned a poverty threshold of $22,007. If the total income fell below that number, the family was judged to be living in poverty. Those living in severe poverty have incomes below half of the poverty line. The number of Americans living in such a desperate situation increased by 600,000 in the year 2002 to 14.1 million.

Pope John Paul II regularly reminds us Catholics of our call to solidarity with all people, especially the poor, wherever they live, not necessarily where we happen to live. CCHD is a successful and viable strategy whereby Catholics in the United States continue to respond effectively to that challenge. Eighty-seven percent of all money raised by CCHD directly supports its mission of promoting community and economic development and educating the public about poverty and Catholic social teaching. Most of CCHD's funds come from you, the generous Catholic people of this archdiocese and nation. The remainder comes from other community-minded individuals, religious orders and foundations.

On the weekend before Thanksgiving here in the Archdiocese of Portland and in most of the other dioceses of these United States, a special second collection will be taken up to receive your donations for CCHD. Please be as generous as possible. On Thanksgiving Day, we citizens of this richest of nations will gather to celebrate the blessings of our lives. That celebration will be meaningless unless our blessings are shared. Please help our poor and low-income neighbors break the cycle of poverty for themselves by supporting the Catholic Campaign for Human Development on the weekend of Nov. 20ñ21.

Far too many of our friends and neighbors still try to survive on 'the neck of the chicken.' I am sure that was never God's intention. He is calling upon you and me to share our bounty and help eliminate poverty and justice in this land that we love.