In 2018, Bishop Joseph E. Strickland joined the Cross Catholic Outreach board of directors. Today, he serves alongside six other U.S. Catholic bishops who provide oversight and guidance to our ministry. In January, we traveled to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Tyler to speak with Bishop Strickland about our mission of helping the poorest of the poor.
CR: Bishop Strickland, thank you for welcoming us to the Diocese of Tyler. As a member of our Board of Directors, you are aware that Cross Catholic is celebrating our 20th Anniversary this year. As we reflect back on the many blessings that our ministry has received, one of them is the support of Catholic bishops all over the United States. I was wondering if you could tell us what led you to support the work of Cross Catholic and later join our Board of Directors.
Strickland: Well, I just believe you have a great mission and there’s a great desire among the Catholics here in the Diocese of Tyler and throughout the United States….. a great generosity and desire to reach beyond our borders….reach beyond our local communities or even the nation and really go out and offer assistance. I think especially in this diocese, and really throughout the country, there is an appreciation that reaching out and helping others is what being Catholic means. I know some outreach priests at Cross Catholic who visit parishes to bring the mission to various congregations around the United States and then I was invited by Archbishop Rodi, who was Chairman at the time, to be a member of the Board.
CR: You have a new book out called Light and Leaven and in it you write that the whole list of problems on Earth, they all have one answer— Jesus Christ and if you want to feed the world, first you feed it with the Body of Christ. Can you expand on this idea you wrote about?
Strickland: I truly believe that we are called to follow Jesus Christ to be his disciples; that is a message for the world. Sometimes I think we forget that as Catholics. I’m a cradle Catholic and I think its easy for us to sort of look at ourselves…… well we believe this and this is our way, but really if we listen to the Gospel and listen to the whole history of the Church…. Jesus Christ is a gift to humanity. So, focusing on that I think organizations like Cross Catholic Outreach can really remind us that we all…. Reaching out to the poor is not sort of an accessory….. its who we are….its what we are about. Because reaching out to our neighbor as Christ says, to our brothers and sisters…
CR: In your book, you also talk about the right approach to Social Justice. That our temporal efforts at helping others can be less effective if we leave God out of the picture. You write than when people have a relationship with Jesus, when their hearts are converted, when they are guided by Catholic social teaching, then those are the people that want to feed the hungry. How does Cross Catholic promote that vision?
Strickland: Well I think it helps to inform people of what the needs are around the world of brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ and what their real material needs are — water, shelter, clothing, food — just the very basics of humanity. So, I believe it really helps people to be more in touch with that and more aware of how their resources…though they may feel limited in what they can do…..even what we would consider small gift amounts can do tremendous work in certain areas of the world.
CR: We spoke to Bishop Carl Kemme recently of the Diocese of Wichita, one of your fellow Board members, and he said that helping the poor cannot be strictly a humanitarian effort —that we have to help the whole person beyond the immediate material need. What he said really resonates with what you write — that spiritual development is a necessary part of making a lasting difference in uplifting the poor. How does Cross Catholic’s model towards long term community transformation reflect that spiritual approach?
Strickland: Well I think it does reflect that approach and I really appreciate what Bishop Kemme said in that it really is essential that we maintain the Catholicity and I really appreciate that about what Cross Catholic does to really be Catholic and to keep those values of the sanctity of life and the moral issues that we deal with and the meaning of family, the meaning of marriage. There are real pressures in the Church and in the world to compromise some of those things and I really appreciate that Cross Catholic doesn’t compromise that and stays with Catholic values. We believe its the Good News that Jesus Christ has shared with us the fullness of the deposit of faith. I believe its essential and that’s one thing that I appreciate what Cross Catholic does in the kind of approach is not to back off from the Catholicism, but to share the beauty of the Catholic way and not in any way denigrating any other person or any other group. But instead, bringing the richness of life in Jesus Christ fully and vibrantly to others who may have little awareness of really who Jesus Christ is.
CR: Pope Paul VI used a phrase when he talked about helping people, helping the whole person, which is integral human development. Bishop Strickland, how do you define that phrase?
Strickland: What I hear in St Paul VI’s use of the phrase “integral human development” is that helping others is about the whole person, every aspect — feeding but also nurturing the mind, and nurturing the spirit. Recognizing that we need community. Supporting families. So, every dimension of the human person I believe is what Pope Paul VI is getting at.
CR: As a member of our Board Bishop Strickland, you see the reports of how the Catholic faithful in the United States are empowering Catholic missionaries in the poorest parts of the world. What would you say to our donors who are sacrificing, especially in these challenging times, about the impact they are having in various places around the world.
Strickland: I would encourage the donors to recognize if they have sizable contributions that they are able to make…. Certainly Cross Catholic needs that, but also the smaller contributions that people may think what difference can this make. I love the material you put out that illustrates that a few dollars can make a huge difference in an individual or a family’s life. I think people need to be aware of that, that it really does make a difference for their brothers or sisters that may live halfway around the world.
CR: Pope Francis has written very beautifully over the years about the poor. In one of his Encyclicals he wrote that “every individual Christian and every Christian community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation of and the promotion of the poor.” How has Pope Francis’s focus on poverty impacted those suffering around the world in a concrete way?
Strickland: Well I think Pope Francis really has helped people remember the poor. As I heard the story he was told by one of the Cardinals as he was being elected, don’t forget the poor. Certainly he has lived up to that and its a wonderful part of his legacy that he brings to the Church this focus. We live in an age where we need to remember that reality of the poor, even with all that we are facing now with COVID19 an everything in the United States, its still a country of tremendous wealth and tremendous resources and I think we are all challenged to really ask ourselves is this a need or just another want. Certainly we live in a market economy that promotes materialism…….but as Christians we need to constantly discern and ask ourselves do I really need that and challenge ourselves to really be able to certainly take care of our families and really remember that the wants far outpace what our needs really are. We should recognize that other people in the world and even in this nation have needs of basic elements of life should be in justice taking care of.
CR: We’re just a few weeks away from the start of Lent, a time of preparation and sacrifice. A lot of Catholics have fallen into the habit of giving up something small very small every Lent, candy or sweets or something like that, I’m wondering as a Bishop, as a teacher of the faith, in these unsettling times, perhaps you have a recommendation of a way people might give up a little more this year to go deeper in their faith and draw closer to Jesus.
Strickland: I certainly think there is that tendency to give up some favorite thing. What I would encourage people, and I challenge myself and all of us to really look at….. is there an “ouch factor?” Does it really say that’s tough to give up? Either to do extra or to pull back from something that we really enjoy….. I think we are challenged in this time especially to really ask ourselves what can bring that factor of really feeling it (sacrifice) of making a sacrifice that makes a real difference in how we live out that day or the next day.
CR: Bishop, we want to thank you for your wonderful hospitality today. Thanks for hosting us at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception here in Tyler and most of all, on behalf of everyone at Cross Catholic, thank you for serving on our Board of Directors.
Strickland: Thank you, it’s an honor.