Weekly roundup: Dear departed, poverty persists, and surviving the deep freeze

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As much of the country is emerging from this week's polar vortex, thaw out with our Weekly Roundup:

So yeah, this week was COLD. Here at U.S. Catholic, our brave editorial team survived massive train delays and temperatures as low as -17 (or -38 with the wind chill) to make it to the office. Thankfully, Catholic social service agencies around the country were weathering the storm, working hard to meet the needs of people suffering from the cold weather.

Speaking of helping those in need, this week marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, which President Lyndon Johnson officially declared on January 8, 1964. The war is still raging on, of course, and Congress this week was tasked with addressing the needs of the long-term unemployed after the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expired. As part of their Poverty Awareness Month campaign, the U.S. Catholic bishops have launched an action alert calling on Catholics to urge their Congressmen to extend unemployment benefits.

The bishops didn't just stop there--they also asked the Senate this week to address the fact that the current federal minimum wage is far from a just wage. According to a press release, the bishops argue that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 fails “to provide sufficient resources for individuals to form and support families,” and does not meet the standards of a just wage as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Over at Sojourners, Anna Hall dispels five common myths about raising minimum wage. And the city of Chicago is apparently listening, as there is reportedly some talk of raising minimum wage in the city to $15, reports Crain's Chicago Business.

The AP also reports that doctors have another poverty-related concern: Cuts to food stamps are only going to cause more problems with health care. As Boston Medical Center's Dr. Deborah Frank puts it, um, frankly: "If you're interested in saving health care costs, the dumbest thing you can do is cut nutrition."

In the Catholic world, peace activist John Dear stirred up some talk this week when he announced he was leaving the Jesuits. Or that he was "dismissed" by the Jesuits, depending on who you ask. Clearly there are two sides to every story, and the real reasons for Dear's departure seem to me to be somewhere in the middle.

Also getting some attention this week were the Guardians of the Altar. No, that's not a summer blockbuster, it is a highly-trained special group of altar servers in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. (Of course that was hardly the biggest story--no pun intended--out of New Jersey this week.)

The fight against the so-called "contraception mandate" under the Affordable Care Act rages on, and Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches offered a good analysis of the Little Sisters of the Poor's case here and added more to the story here.

This week the world mourned the passing of Thomas Melady, a U.S. diplomat who served in the Vatican during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.

And finally, what was Pope Francis up to this week? Not much, just giving a friend a lift.

If you can't get your fill of Francis, there's plenty of papal paraphernalia to buy as a way of showing the world how much you love him. Even your dog can wear a Pope Francis sweater during these frigid months.

And with that, we'll sign off--have a great weekend!