By Lara Pickford-Gordon
In the face of the manmade “mindless, heartless system” which has no regard for the human person or their dignity, youths are ready and willing to engage the poor and be the Body of Christ in society.
Content Creator at the Catholic Youth Commission Angelo Kurbanali said whether people were comfortable or not, poverty is the everyday lived experience and the result of this system.
In the midst of “chaos of the last few decades”, climate change, political strife, genocide, and war, there was a “tiny semblance of hope” as the pattern of extreme poverty—living on less than roughly US$2 daily—was decreasing over the past 20 years.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed this and Kurbanali mentioned a projection from the World Bank indicating extreme poverty was set to rise and impact ten per cent of the world’s population. “Right here in our beloved motherland of Trinidad & Tobago, how many job losses have we witnessed because of COVID alone? How many families continue to be at the mercy of our charity? How many of our youth are unemployed or underemployed and suffer poverty’s tragic effects?”
Kurbanali was one of the featured speakers at the opening of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice’s (CCSJ) Justice, Peace and Community Week (November 14-21) aired on Trinity Television Saturday, November 14. Archbishop Jason Gordon, Chair of the CCSJ Leela Ramdeen and National President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul Angelique Taylor also addressed the event.
Quoting Gustavo Gutiérrez Merino OP, Peruvian philosopher and theologian, Kurbanali described poverty as “being rendered socially insignificant owing to ethnic, cultural, gender, and/or economic factors”. This was social exclusion and he commented that for human beings, as a species reliant on social inclusion for survival, to allow poverty to exist “is equivalent to perpetuating genocide”.
On this year’s World Day of the Poor 2020, Kurbanali said youth find themselves in an extremely volatile, historical context pregnant with the potential for production or destruction. To live out their baptismal call to be saints they must follow the mandate to be the incarnation by being the Body of Christ bringing about the reign of God and bringing healing to the poor with the Good News.
Kurbanali said in the same way Jesus healed through His encounters, youth also want to answer the call to be Christ’s healing presence. He added, “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.”
The effects of poverty have been publicised and Kurbanali said more voices crying in the wilderness are not needed; what is needed now is change. The “youths these days” do not deem almsgiving as a sufficient 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”.
Actively reaching out to the poor
Commenting on Pope Francis’ message for World Day of the Poor (November 15) and its theme Stretch forth your hand to the poor (Sirac 7:32), he said the Holy Father “appeals to the spark of universal consciousness and mutual concern that may still be present in our hearts”. In this regard, this November youths of “good will” join the Pope in his appeal knowing that without a concrete commitment to the poor, they could never consider themselves truly Christian.
Although Catholics love to claim they are pro-life, Kurbanali said it is time to start living this to the fullest sense. He referenced Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti which reminds of the path along which people are currently racing. “By failing to affirm our fellow sisters and brothers’ dignity, because of issues such as where they’re from, we create a hierarchical system that prefers those of greater wealth and discards the rest,” Kurbanali said. He noted Pope Francis went further to purport that unless the dignity of the human person was upheld, the human race won’t survive.
Kurbanali reiterated that Catholics are fundamentally called to a preferential option for the poor. To be pro-life is to bring life to others, especially the poor. He stated that an “impossible dichotomy” exists with systems that deal death to the poor and vulnerable yet the authentic Christian experience brings life. He called for Catholics to seek out the “lost sheep” in society and questioned how many knew where the lost sheep is. For those who have found the lost sheep, have they taken the time to care and provide accompaniment to them on the road to recovery?
“Our sisters and brothers suffering the effects of poverty are our lost sheep, crying out for our help, crying out for Christ’s healing…we Christian ‘youths these days’ know that death is not the end. Resurrection follows.”
Kurbanali suggested the solution to change the world and course of history has to involve youths. He urged the former generation to have trust in them. “You raised us. Now trust us. We’ll make mistakes, as does everyone, but I’ll dare to say that as Christian people the biggest of the many rooms in God’s house is that of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption”.
He urged all to be pro-life and to start working collaboratively towards the systemic change that is needed with hands outstretched to the poor, embracing and including them.