WHEELING - The Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, made combating poverty in West Virginia a priority when he released his fourth pastoral letter Thursday at a news conference at the diocesan offices in downtown Wheeling.
Bransfield also committed $100,000 to a matching grant fund for parishes, schools and agencies in the diocese who wish to implement local programs and outreach projects to address the issues of poverty in the state. He said this will help establish "grassroots initiatives" that will "amplify the needs of the poor in West Virginia."
Bransfield completed "Setting Children Free - Loosening the Bonds of Poverty in West Virginia" early in November to "help better identify the devastating effects of poverty on people of the Mountain State, especially children and families." The bishop has sent the letter to all Catholic bishops and archbishops in the United States to be discussed in their Baltimore meeting in November.
"We have learned how much has to be done to restore hope to families caught in the cycle of poverty generation after generation," Bransfield said. "This pastoral is designed to speak to the grief and anguish of the poor among us and offer them a compassionate message of joy and hope. I want to invite all residents of West Virginia from our neighborhoods and rural communities to join me in compassionate care for the poor and continue advocacy on their behalf."
Bransfield said West Virginia experiences higher incidents of low birth rates and infant mortality than the national average, as well as a high percentage of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. He added that the child abuse and neglect rate is also above the national average, as are the number of children with poor oral health, the teen birth rate and the percent of births to unmarried teens.
Bransfield cited numerous factors contributing to poverty in West Virginia, emphasizing the strong cycle of poverty through generations. Put simply, children can't help but be influenced by the lifestyles of their parents where unhealthy habits such as poor nutritional choices and skipping doctor visits are the norm. He also said that economic poverty contributes to this lifestyle in which a parent simply doesn't have the income to provide healthy food.
"To help the children of our state rise from poverty, a wide variety of approaches will be needed. Extending compassionate care to children means we should work for policies regarding health, behavioral health, addiction and mental illness as well as educational policies which will give these young ones long lives full of well-being," he said.
The $100,000 matching grant program will begin in December, when requests for proposals will be sent to parishes, schools and charitable agencies across the diocese.