NEW YORK – The Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary, Inc. (FHM), one of only three orders of mostly Black nuns in the United States, recently headed to Capitol Hill to urge the lawmakers to not abandon the nation’s poor. The Harlem-based order, which was founded in 1916 to serve and educate the impoverished, met with members of Congress to place the needs of low-income Americans front and center in legislation. The sisters were in town for the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering February 2 to 5 and joined other Catholic leaders in doing outreach to the legislature on Catholic priorities.
Members of the order met with Harlem congressman Adriano Espaillat and aides to Senator Chuck Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand as well as Representatives Eliot L. Engel.
The FHM yearly feeds 22,000 New York families with its St. Edward Food Pantry in Staten Island, the need increasing since Hurricane Sandy despite news reports touting a robust economy.
“We are not politicians. We are women of faith, encountering Jesus in our neighbors,” said FHM Congregation Minister Sister Gertrude Lilly Ihenacho. “It is our moral responsibility as a religious community with a charism of social justice and pastoral care to work for justice, be the voice of the voiceless and through our ministries to defend, protect and uplift human dignity, empowering the poor to rise above poverty.”
Ihenacho was joined by Sisters Precilla Takuh, FHM, and Anne Okorie, FHM, in advocating that Congress preserve funding for nutrition programs to prevent hunger in children and adults, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Commodity Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SSFP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, which aim to help the one in eight American households that are food-insecure. In addition to promoting anti-hunger programs, the sisters urged legislators to invest in the affordable housing and community development programs of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) as homelessness is on the rise for the first time in six years at the same time that available housing units are on the decline.
With locations in Harlem, Staten Island, Yonkers and Owerri, Nigeria, the FHM continues its work to help provide basic needs to the people. The order, once facing closure is currently increasing its numbers and seeking additional women who wish to serve God by serving his people.
The order issued a call to action to young leaders to join forces with the FHM to work together to help meet basic human needs, including joining the sisters in prayer for Divine intervention; assisting in its work around the U.S. to alleviate food insecurity affecting 15 million American households, shelter the homeless, educate the needy, and empower the vulnerable by removing the root causes of hunger, poverty, homelessness and encouraging self-reliance and development; and joining with the FHM to advocate for those less fortunate to the powers that be.