This past Friday, Jan. 11, marked a tragic day for the estimated 800,000 federal workers affected by the U.S. government shutdown, as they and their families missed a paycheck while the shutdown stretched into its third week and became the longest such work stoppage in the nation’s history.

That same day, Catholic Charities DC of the Archdiocese of Washington announced that it would be offering emergency funds to the furloughed federal workers affected by the government shutdown. From Jan. 15 to 17 at three of its locations – at its downtown Washington headquarters, the James Cardinal Hickey Center; Susan D. Mona Center in Temple Hills, Maryland; and the Southern Maryland Food Bank in Waldorf – the agency will be providing financial assistance to “to help offset the costs of immediate needs including rent, essential home supplies, medical services, and transportation needs,” and will also have other support services available.

The sad irony is that federal workers are among the local Catholics who provide generous financial and volunteer support to Catholic Charities – the largest independent social services agency in the Washington metropolitan area – and now some of them find themselves needing charitable assistance, due to the ongoing budget impasse between the White House and Congress over President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funds for construction of a border wall between the United States and Mexico, and congressional Democratic leaders’ contention that such a wall would be immoral and ineffective.

The Washington area has one of the highest costs of living in the United States, and many individuals and families live from paycheck to paycheck, so missing a paycheck causes financial hardships to people who shouldn’t be pawns in a political stalemate that the president warns could last months or even years. And the shutdown is also affecting government contractors and their families who are likewise missing paychecks, and people who work in tourism, restaurants, retail and other local businesses suffering lost revenue due to the impasse.

Last week, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, the rector of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, tweeted: “Because of St. Matthew’s duties as a public official, the Church designated him as the patron saint of civil servants. During this time of #GovernmentShutdown, we pray for all in #publicservice, that they may be sustained and problems resolved quickly. St. Matthew pray for us.”

Since the Archdiocese of Washington was established in 1939, St. Matthew’s has been its cathedral church, fittingly named for the tax collector who became an apostle and evangelist after being called by Jesus, and today federal, state and local government workers, along with other Washington residents and visitors to the nation’s capital, find a spiritual haven there. Our prayers for the intercession of the patron saint of civil servants, as Msgr. Jameson noted on Twitter, are especially timely now.

On Jan. 10, Bishop Joseph Vásquez, of Austin, Texas, the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued a statement calling on the president and congressional leaders to create a border solution and end the government shutdown.

In his statement, Bishop Vásquez noted, “Secure borders and humane treatment of those fleeing persecution and seeking a better life are not mutually exclusive. The United States can ensure both and must do so without instilling fear or sowing hatred. We will continue to advocate for immigration reform to advance the common good and address these issues."

The bishop in his statement also said, “Pope Francis states that migrants are not statistics, but persons with feelings that need ongoing protection. From our work serving immigrant and refugees along the U.S./Mexico border, in the interior of the United States and throughout the world, we know this to be true. We urge lawmakers to look beyond rhetoric and remember the human dignity that God our Father has given each of us simply because we are all His children." 

Bishop  Vásquez concluded his statement by noting, “The president and congressional leaders need to come together and end the shutdown with a solution that recognizes the dignity of work of affected employees, respects the humanity of all regardless of immigration status, and protects the sanctity of human life.”

Catholic Charities’ outreach, Msgr. Jameson’s tweet and Bishop Vásquez’s statement remind us of the human face and impact of the political standoff, both on federal workers and contractors and their families, and on immigrants fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. 

The workers and immigrants at the center of this debate are in some cases part of our family, and they also include neighbors, friends and contributing members of our community, people who live and work beside us, and who pray next to us in church. They are truly our brothers and sisters, in need of our prayers and support, our empathy and solidarity, and our advocacy on their behalf. 

We should likewise pray for our president and congressional leaders, that they might work together and find solutions for the common good, not only for border security, but for the well-being and security of the workers and immigrants and their families who have become unnecessary political pawns in this debate. St. Matthew, pray for us, and them.