The children from St. Luke's School in St. Paul, Minnesota, came out to give us water bottles and display their handmade signs about Catholic social teaching on poverty. It was the first stop on Call to Renewal's "Rolling to Overcome Poverty" 15-city, 12-day bus tour, and we were marching with hundreds of people from Minnesota's diverse faith communities on a four-mile "people's pilgrimage" to the state capitol.
I was immediately drawn to the kids who were about the same size as my son Luke, so I found myself among the first- and second-graders. A 7-year-old girl held up the brightly colored poster she had made, which said, "Every Life is Sacred. Stop Poverty." When I smiled at her, she looked up at me and said, "Thank you for doing this." That kept me going for days.
She had given us the theme for the bus tour, and the next stop on the march gave us the national context. We stopped at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church, where an overnight shelter took the overflow from a city shelter; the night before, three families, with 11 children under the age of 6, had stayed there, and they would again that night. "Overflow" became the watchword for the tour as we encountered countless shelters, food programs, and faith-based ministries seriously overextended in a country where the poverty rate has risen every year for the last three years.
The next day we stood under the dome of the Wisconsin state capitol in Madison as those in prison ministry told stories of life at the bottom, within earshot of the states political leaders. In the afternoon we heard the success stories of formerly homeless children in Baptist-run, affordable family apartments, children whose grade point averages went from 1.2 to 3.2. None of them dropped out of school and all went on to college. Stability, security, and opportunity help poor kids to succeed. Imagine that.