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Promoting the dignity of the poor and vulnerable

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & AMMR

“The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!” — Pope Francis.

Today, as we observe World Day of the Poor, and begin Justice, Peace and Community Week, let’s reflect on the role that each of us is playing in building God’s Kingdom on earth.

Jesus calls us, as He did His disciples, to be salt of the earth and light of the world. Pope Francis reminds us that salt must add flavour and light must illuminate the other (Mt 5:3–6).

The preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is a key social justice principle. The Holy Father urges us to hear the cry of the poor, who he says: “are a true presence of Jesus in our midst.” “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). He reminds us of the need to stand in solidarity with the poor. Remember the words of St Paul: “If one member suffers, all suffer together.”

And we must also hear the cry of the earth, as it is the poor who most feel the brunt of climate change and environmental degradation.

In his encyclical, Laudato Si’ (LS), Pope Francis says everything is connected: “Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest” (LS,13).

“Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity… We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalisation of indifference” (LS 30, 52).

In 2014, Pope Francis tweeted: “None of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.” In his article, ‘What does Laudato Si’ really say about the poor?’, John Freund says Laudato Si’ contains 61 instances where Pope Francis references people who are “poor”, and “many instances… where it is clear he is referring to those who are marginalised and suffering.”

As we practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, let’s also address unjust structures e.g., policies and practices that may adversely affect the poor and vulnerable from achieving their potential.

“Injustice”, says Pope Francis, “is the perverse root of poverty. The cry of the poor daily becomes stronger but heard less…” He says: “No-one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!”

Let’s put on the mind of Jesus (Phil 2:5) and see Him in the faces of the poor and vulnerable. According to UNICEF, around 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Hunger, lack of sanitation and access to clean water and lack of resources for proper health care are the main reasons. Over one billion people in our world live in poverty. Here in T&T we appear to be working on 2005 statistics which state that 16.7 per cent of our people live below the poverty line.

I urge you to join one of the many Catholic or other organisations in our country/parish that work tirelessly to meet the varied needs of the poor.

And remember that many migrants and refugees are in dire need also. We cannot say we love God and yet fail to see His face in those of our neighbour.

Today, as we examine our consciences, let’s read Chapter 2, Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’ mediation on The Good Samaritan; his 2017 Lenten message on the rich man and Lazarus; Para 21 – Populorum Progressio, St Pope Paul VI – let’s move people from less human conditions to truly human conditions.

Our Catechism (1931) reminds us that: “Respect for the human person proceeds by way of respect for the principle that everyone should look upon his/her neighbour (without any exception) as ‘another self’, above all bearing in mind his/her life and the means necessary for living it with dignity”.

The first step in seeking to eradicate poverty is to recognise the inherent, inalienable, inviolable dignity of each human person made in God’s image and likeness.

Remember, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love” (CCC 1022; by St John of the Cross) and see Matthew 25:31–40.


“It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all …because we are all really responsible for all.”

–St Pope John II, Social Concern 1987

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee

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