Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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CCHD helps ‘empower people to make changes in society,’ says priest-director
Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff
(From the May 23, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)
Father Bob Vitillo is the executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), based in Washington, D.C. The Campaign is the U.S. bishops’ effort to eliminate the root causes of poverty by funding self-help projects which directly involve the participation of the poor in this country.
Father Vitillo came to Spokane last month for a series of meetings and workshops, on a trip arranged by Catholic Charities.
He met with priests and pastoral ministers at one gathering and gave a workshop to parish social concerns representatives at another. He also met with HIV/AIDS care teams and visited with beneficiaries of CCHD grants.
Father Vitillo’s credentials in social ministry encompass all 30 years of his priesthood. He worked at Catholic Charities in his home diocese of Paterson, N.J., even as a deaon before ordination to priesthood. After he was ordained a priest, he worked as a family counselor and treated emotionally disturbed children.
He later became the diocesan organization’s director. His agency developed one of the first models for adult day care. In 1980 it was also “very involved” in refugee resettlement, especially with Cuban refugees, he said.
In 1986 Father Vitillo was asked to serve at Caritas Internationalis in Vatican City, an equivalent to Catholic Charities, but on an international scale. In his work at Caritas, he helped develop programs for the church to deal with the epidemic of HIV/AIDS, an epidemic which continues to spread across the world.
In 1995 he returned to the U.S. to work at Catholic Charities USA and in 1997 was appointed executive director of CCHD. He recently accepted another two-year term at that post.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops started the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in 1970, two years before Father Vitillo was ordained a priest. Through CCHD, grants are given to projects “that give people a hand up, rather than a hand-out.”
As director of CCHD, Father Vitillo favors those kinds of projects that “empower people to make changes in society,” teaching skills or setting up businesses that become self-sustaining. In Spokane he visited the Women’s Drop-in Center and was gratified to see the work done by VOICES in promoting Women’s Justice Circles, one of the organizations which received funding through a local CCHD grant. The circles bring women of all income levels together to discuss the issues that affect them and how they might address those issues as a group. He said he appreciated seeing how CCHD funds “can make a difference.”
Father Vitillo said that the gap between rich and poor in the United States continues to widen. Poverty would not be eliminated, he said, until “we pay people a living wage.” Poor people want to work, and many of them do work, “at three or four jobs,” he said.
Father Vitillo’s work primarily involves education. He said if he could give one piece of advice that would address the issue of poverty, he would tell people “who are not poor to interact with those who are poor. The issues will emerge from that interaction. We can take our cue from the poor themselves.”
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