Home peace: Vatican commission examines impact of household debt

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The Catholic Church’s advocacy for debt relief is primarily aimed at enabling countries with high debt abroad to provide for their populations, but the COVID-19 Commission of The Vatican is also concerned that families are teetering with the burden of debt.

In fact, the commission’s economics task force recommended “major debt suspensions and reductions for indebted households” and the training and deployment of “debt counselors,” including through debt advisers. parishes and Catholic charities, to help households get out of debt.

While many families with stable incomes from remote working have used pandemic lockdowns to spend less and pay off debts, people who have lost income or lost their jobs have often survived solely on food banks, charities, government assistance and moratoriums on evictions.

Pope Francis launched a fund in his diocese, the Diocese of Rome, in 2020 to help families who lost their jobs or were forced to close their small businesses during the lockdown. He created the “Jesus the Divine Worker Foundation” with an initial donation of over $ 1 million. The Lazio region and the city of Rome matched his gift, as well as individuals.

In its first year of operation, the diocese reported on August 3, the fund distributed more than $ 2.6 million in emergency disbursements to help people pay their mortgages, rent or utilities, monthly assistance of up to $ 700 for unemployed families; and grants for individuals to start small businesses or acquire a new skill.

Bishop Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Roma, said it has also put more families in contact with Caritas advisers, giving Caritas better first-hand accounts of the impact of the pandemic and enabling the organization to adapt its assistance.

While most Italians have a high rate of personal savings and low household debt, those who don’t easily can fall prey to loan sharks.

The country has a national organization made up mostly of anti-attrition foundations established by parishes or dioceses, which educate people about the dangers of debt, help people in high debt, and help save those who have fallen among the claws of loan sharks.

“Usury is an ancient and sadly still hidden evil that, like a snake, strangles its victims,” Pope Francis said during a meeting with the organization’s national council in 2018. .

Church-sponsored anti-wear organizations, he said, must also help people learn to live “a sober lifestyle, able to distinguish the superfluous from the necessary, and which encourages the responsibility of not living. go into debt to get things that you could give up. “

One parish in Indiana has been doing just that for several years.

Twice a year since 2019, St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Whiting runs the University of Financial Peace, a nine-session program to help participants eliminate debt and continue to live debt-free, save for retirement and school fees for their children, buying one at home and achieving other goals, said Laura Ieraci, volunteer program coordinator and certified financial coach.

Ieraci and her husband, Father Andrew Summerson, the parish administrator, took the course in 2017 “not to get into debt but to align our financial values,” said Ieraci, who is also a journalist and works for the Catholic Near East. Welfare Association and contributes to the Catholic News Service.

“It has helped us to be on the same page, plan for the future and understand how our monthly budget could reflect our shared values ​​and support the way we believe we are called to live the gospel in family, ”Ieraci said. “We have learned to manage our finances based on Bible principles and the result has been greater peace all around. We were so blessed by the program that we wanted to share these blessings with others.

Students in the course said COVID-19 made some people more aware of the need to plan well financially, she said. “The old phrase, ‘You have to save for a rainy day’ seems to have struck some people over the past two years.”

As a parish ministry, said Ieraci, teaching people how to reduce their debt is based on “the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity” because it helps them align their spending with their spiritual values, frees them from the burden of debt and removes a barrier to sharing with others.

Plus, she said, it’s a very practical form of family ministry. “If we can help couples get on the same page on finances and take the stress out of debt, we could help save and enrich many marriages. “

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