By Lara Pickford-Gordon
Get to know the poor, they have their stories and gifts to give; they lead to a deeper conversion and encounter with Christ. Archbishop Jason Gordon made this call for the World Day of the Poor, observed today November 15.
“The poor are not our objects that we go towards giving them something that makes us feel good,” he said at the opening of Justice, Peace and Community Week (JPCW) November 14-21 hosted by the Catholic Commission for Social Justice. It was broadcast on Trinity Television yesterday (Saturday, November 14). The theme for the Week was taken from the theme for World Day of the Poor, Sirach 7:32 Stretch forth your hand to the poor.
Archbishop Gordon said encounters with the poor allow people to see the “image of God Himself here in Trinidad and Tobago that invites us to conversion of heart”. They can prompt reflection and questions about how persons are responding and their indifference.
“We live in great opulence and great excess that is unnecessary when so many people are at our door and who are waiting and asking for help when we just ignore them.”
Archbishop Gordon referred to Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship) which comments on engaging with the poor. He said: “Building social relationships is so important. Often we don’t build social relationships with those who are poor and those who are left out of our society and those who are marginalised.” He asked on World Day of the Poor for Catholics to take the time to reach out and get to know a poor person and not just give money, which he commented “we do that and we do that well”.
The poor often do not get the opportunity to share their stories with dignity. Archbishop Gordon invited viewers to imagine the poor person spending days, weeks, and months without anyone asking ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’.
“The poor is not a class and not a statistic; it is a person. A real, live human person. They have a face; they have a name’ they have a style; they have a way of being,” Archbishop Gordon said.
He recounted that for last year’s World Day of the Poor, he stopped to chat with a homeless man. He was a familiar face and known as “Christian soldier”. They had a long conversation and at the end the man said “wait, wait bishop” and reached into his bag of things and took out a new notebook and presented it to him saying “this is for you”.
“The poor give us gifts that we don’t even understand and let us remember, we don’t just go to give: we also receive when we encounter the poor,” he said
He quoted poverty indicators data showing T&T had 16.7 per cent poverty level and 1.2 per cent indigent poverty. The latter he said is persistent poverty that has not moved for more than a generation. He said the data for Tobago was similar. Archbishop Gordon expressed disappointment that Trinidad and Tobago, despite the money it had and budgets, still has persistent pockets of poverty along the East-West Corridor, central and south.
He said, “We as a nation should hide our head because with the kind of money we have had, we should have moved everyone out of persistent poverty and move people into a way of living where they have a real sense of opportunity.”
Poverty is not just about lacking money but also lack of participation in society and dignity. It can result in children not having the same educational opportunities as others and life chances being frustrated.
“We need to become a nation that cares and loves much more. And I would say this about Trinidad and Tobago, we are incredibly generous nation,” said Archbishop Gordon. He highlighted the generosity displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic in which the Church fed more than 70,000 people over three months. Many people contributed their time, talent and treasure. He touched on the Church’s involvement in various ministries through the many ecclesial communities extending their hands to the poor on a daily basis.
Archbishop Gordon summed up the “logic” of the World Day of the Poor saying it is a permanent memorial of mercy, brought communities to consciousness, individuals to commitment to do something tangible for the poor and a form of new evangelisation.
Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice Leela Ramdeen, National President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Angelique Taylor and Content Creator Catholic Youth Commission Angelo Kurbanali also addressed the opening.