The Beginnings Of A Social Concern For Families
In 1891 Pope Leo XIII initiated a new interest in the church about family life with his pioneering social encyclical called Rerum Novarum (On New Things). The primary focus of this letter concerned the state of labor particularly as it was being influenced by the socialist revolution of the times. As the pope considered the condition of the typical worker, he also took the opportunity to comment on the state of the worker's family. Here he noted the right of families, especially poor families, to adequate food, clothing, shelter, and protection. His interest was primarily on the material or social needs of the family.
The issuance of that encyclical began a pattern of church support for the social welfare of the family. Especially in the United States there developed a group of major church agencies whose primary purpose was assistance to families, especially economic assistance. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, along with many diocesan programs under what was usually called Catholic Charities, sought to meet the needs of families and children. Catholic hospitals and schools, while attending primarily to the sick and to children, often included an interest in the families of those they served. Starting with a huge influx of Irish immigrants in the mid-nineteenth century, the number of needy Catholic families has remained high.
Toward the end of the twentieth century, many Catholic families came to the United States from Latin America and Asia. Helping these families remains a high priority for the Catholic Church. A similar effort toward helping needy families occurs around the world though a variety of international Catholic agencies like Catholic Relief Services and various international organizations sponsored by such religious communities as the Jesuits, Franciscans, and Maryknoll.
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