By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“Lazarus is a good example of the silent cry of the poor throughout the ages and the contradictions of a world in which immense wealth and resources are in the hands of the few” – Pope Francis.
The Archdiocesan observance of Justice, Peace and Community Week (JPCW) commenced on Saturday, November 14 and ends on Saturday 21. A calendar of events for the week is on page 14, as well as a Prayer Supplement produced by the Archdiocesan Catechetical Office on pages 12 and 13.
The theme of JPCW this year is the same theme that Pope Francis has chosen for his message for the 4th World Day of the Poor: “Stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sirach 7:32). World Day of the Poor is observed today, Sunday November 15. It was established by Pope Francis in 2017.
A key social justice principle in the Catholic Church is the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. In June Pope Francis challenged us to rethink poverty.
He said: “…the coronavirus pandemic has shown how much the poor are disconnected from society. Poverty is often hidden away, he says, but trying to help others can help us rediscover ourselves… In Rome recently, in the midst of the quarantine, a policeman said to a man: ‘You can’t be on the street, go home.’ The response was: ‘I have no home. I live in the street.’ There is such a large number of people who are on the margins. And we don’t see them… They have become part of the landscape; they are things.
“Mother Teresa saw them and had the courage to embark on a journey of conversion. To ‘see’ the poor means to restore their humanity. They are not things, not garbage; they are people. We can’t settle for a welfare policy such as we have for rescued animals. which is how the poor are often treated…We disempower the poor…Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo. And if we don’t start there, then there will be no conversion.”
The UNDP states: “Eradicating poverty in all its forms remains one of the greatest challenges facing humanity…too many are still struggling for the most basic human needs” e.g. food, water, housing, sanitation, health care and employment. We are one human family, and we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable if we are to fulfill God’s command: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ ”
In the opening session for JPCW, Angelo Kurbanali, Content Creator, Youth Commission, reminded us that: “Poverty is much more than how much money we make or don’t make. Poverty is nothing less than social exclusion, essentially being outcast or cut off from society. As a species that relies on social inclusion for survival, allowing poverty to exist is equivalent to perpetuating genocide…poverty is our everyday lived experience, and it is the result of this mindless, heartless system that we designed, a system that has absolutely no regard for the human person, no regard for the youth, and no regard for our dignity (Gen 1:27)…
“What we need is change. We give alms and often think it suffices…we ‘youths these days’, do not deem almsgiving as enough of a response to poverty. We stand against this raging, soulless machine, and we know that we must disarm it of its death dealing devices and rebuild it in order to bring about the justice God wants for us; the justice for which Jesus, our liberator, died…
“We, ‘the youths these days’ of good will, this November 2020, join Pope Francis in his appeal, especially because we know that without a concrete commitment to the poor, we can never consider ourselves truly Christian. We Catholics love to claim the title of pro-life; it’s about time we started living that in the fullest sense….We ‘youths these days’ are called, and want to answer the call, to be Christ’s healing presence to Christ’s poor, ailing body, because as long as one of us suffers, we all suffer. We know that God commands us to stretch forth our hand, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”
Thank you, Angelo, for your powerful words. Nelson Mandela rightly said: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.”
I urge each of you to observe JPCW with prayer and action.