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Poverty – phantom with a thousand faces

by | Dec 17, 2012 | Poverty: Analysis and Responses

Santiago Barquín, CM writes,Poverty, misery or want is a phantom with a thousand faces that vents its fury primarily among the majority of people who live in what is referred to as the Third World and among the pockets of poor people living on the fringes of the large industrialized cities, men and women who constitute what is known as the Fourth World. Thus, the poor are those who are materially poor, that is, those who are economically and sociologically poor. This economic and sociological misery is real misery and is opposed to the original plan of God with regard to creation. Therefore we can affirm that God does not desire this situation but rather rejects this reality and detests it.”

Continue below for  the rest of this excerpt from a lengthy article… The Poor: The theological Perspective of the Vincentian Charism

The poor and the causes of poverty present themselves with many and varied faces. Therefore our concept of poverty, besides referring to the economically and sociologically poor, should also include those who are exploited and oppressed and impoverished and dispossessed. Thus the reality of poverty is not a natural phenomenon or a social reality. To say this in another way: there are poor people because there are rich people; there are people who do not have those things that are indispensable for life, because there are others who have more than they need. In this regard we are not only speaking about individuals but we also refer to groups of people and whole nations. At the present time we find individuals, groups and entire countries that are dispossessed, deprived and dying of hunger and misery, people who throughout their life drag along the chains of slavery and oppression and marginalization. José María Castillo describes this situation: The poor are those who have been deprived of that which belongs to them. The goods of this world have been created in order to satisfy all people who inhabit the earth. But a small group of people (individuals, social groups, nations …) have taken these goods as their own and as a result the rest do not have those things that are indispensable.

Who are the poor that we are going to speak about?

Today, and almost always, the existence of poor people and poverty in the world has been and continues to be a concern. Poverty and misery are a reality, a sad and terrible reality that destroys the life of many innocent people. Unfortunately there are poor people among us, millions of poor men and women. Therefore when we talk about the poor, what do we mean by the word “poor”.

Poor in spirit or materially poor

Neither evangelical poverty nor the poor in spirit are the object of our reflection. On the other hand, material poverty and the materially poor are the focus of this presentation. Therefore we will be talking about poverty as destitution, misery and marginalization as well as destitute individuals who live in misery and persons who have a great need for the basic indispensable goods of human life. In other words, we are talking about those individuals who lack those goods that are indispensable and essential in order to be able to live with dignity as free human beings … in order to be free human beings. We are referring to those individuals who lack the most elementary and basic goods of life. We affirm that life itself is a fundamental good and so here we are drawing attention to those individuals who are unable to rejoice in the dignity of human beings, unable to rejoice in that dignity that encompasses justice, fundamental rights and freedom … all of which are an expression and an actualization of human life.

Today there are many materially poor men and women, perhaps too many. Our present economic system seems to manufacture poor people so that wherever this system functions, poor people appear. We find ourselves dealing not only with those poor people whom we have traditionally labeled as such but we also must deal with the new poor. These poor men and women appear everywhere. The so called progressive economy, instead of correcting this defect in society, has made it ever more pronounced. Many of these poor people today “have missed the train of progress” and will never be able to board this train. Unfortunately they have become part of the system. Here is “the cast” that play different roles in this oppressive social reality:

In the cities, where everything is bought and paid for, the unfortunate ones find themselves marginalized early in life.

  • In school, children are conditioned to reproduce the system and thus enter into this cycle of “production-consumption”. Those who show signs of being able to adapt to this system have a bright future in front of them; the rest will become street cleaners, dishwashers, unemployed.
  • Later in life those who work and/or provide some service, receive a salary and this income provides them with social guarantees against the misfortunes of life. Those who lose their employment also lose their salary … it is as though they have fallen off a moving train: the social guarantees will continue for some time and then, even though they have not found another employment, nothing. Now these individuals no longer have the means to subsist … many are forced to receive subsidies and most ration their food.
  • At the end of their active life men and women, in theory, should receive a pension. But those who do not know how to or are unable to stand up for their rights (often the case with widows) are mercilessly cast aside … they manage as best they can and often end their days alone in nursing homes or some other institution.

This system has tentacles and extends to the whole universe. In order that the work that “no one wants to do” gets done, there is need for cheap, docile, unskilled labor. Such labor has been found as people immigrate to the cities and as the impact of the various world-wide immigration movements continues to be felt…

  • Farmers, as they abandon the agrarian society where they had lived with a certain harmony, now live in overcrowded shantytowns where the marginalized world constitutes a reserve of cheap labor for people living just a few steps away in exclusive, wealthy neighborhoods.
  • The system, with its worldwide outreach, is like a bomb that is about to explode. It enriches those who support and promote said system, the select few individuals who have money and power and abandons those who are unable to enter this circle to the margins of society: individuals, social classes and entire regions.

In order to overcome this economic system that is driven by profit, in order to achieve a true civilization (our present condition is only a caricature) we need to give primary importance to the words “men” and “women” and men and women as “children of God.” Pope John Paul II continually reminded us about this reality. A philosopher said: “Men and women are the measure of all things.” This is the condition that will enable us to organize a world that is more just, a world in which “the little ones” and the most poor will be taken into consideration, a world in which each and every person will have a place and will feel fulfilled, a world in which people will live in harmony with themselves, with their sisters and brothers, with nature and with the universe .

Poor people who live in this manner, as well as the multiple forms of poverty that continue to increase are the result of a society whose primary value is profit and not the human person. Schools marginalize people and the economy marginalizes still more people. Once people who are socially marginalized become caught up in the cycle of production-consumption, it is very difficult to escape its clutches, difficult to move out of this negative situation into a better situation. Those who are born into situations of disadvantage and misfortune, as well as the elderly, the unemployed and immigrants of every class and from every place will have great difficulty dealing with the present economic system. Now is the time to break this cycle of death and smash it into a thousand pieces.

Even though there are so many poor people, so many men and women who are marginalized economically and socially, so many people who are materially poor and even though these people can be found everywhere, we do not see them. Perhaps we should say, we do not want to see them or recognize them as such so that our conscience can remain clear and calm. But now it is necessary to open our eyes in order to contemplate them and comfort them. At the present time we can no longer fold our arms as if we are dealing with some evil that is impossible to restrain. Said evil can be eliminated and we, as Vincentians, are called together to engage in that task.

Excerpt from Santiago Barquín, CM The Poor: The theological Perspective of the Vincentian Charism

 

 

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