On November 19 of this year, the Catholic Church invites all of us to reflect on the first “World Day of the Poor,” of which the full message of the Pope Francis is now available on the web site of the Vatican. The theme of reflection is “Let us not love with words, but with works.”
The “World Day of the Poor” was established by the Pope Francis, on the celebration of the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, through the Apostolic Letter entitled “Mercy and Poverty.”
The celebration and specific actions take place on 19 November, each year.
For us, fellow members of the SSVP all over the world, the institution of the “World Day of the Poor” resonates prophetically before the care that we owe to the human being who is in this situation. The poverty of many of our fellow human beings is not a theoretical problem, but a shocking and tangible reality. We cannot have a simplistic view of this reality; our vision must be holistic, because it consists in the vision of the human being, made in the image and likeness of God. This day is important, because it reminds us to carry out more lovingly our Vincentian activities in favour of the less fortunate, since one of the biggest existing poverty is precisely the lack of love.
For the Pope, the expectation is that this day will serve as stimulus to react to a culture of indifference that looks at the marginalized and the excluded as a normal thing; it is an encouragement to assume the “culture of the encounter” with concrete gestures of prayer and charity. For us Christians and for the whole world, it is required to evangelize further the poor. The poor “are not a problem, but a means to welcome and live the essence of the Gospel,” says Francis.
According to the World Bank, extreme poverty reaches 766 million people. Humanitarian organizations know well the issues about the inequality in the distribution of wealth in the world. However, the coldness of figures gives us a perspective more real and dramatic of this issue. 85 of the planet’s richest people accumulate the same wealth as the poorer half of humanity. 46% of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the richest families. 7 out of 10 people live in countries where the unequal distribution of wealth has been exacerbated in the past 30 years (data of the World Economic Forum).
In addition to the material aspect, we must mention the great challenge of spiritual poverty. Among the 7 billion inhabitants of the Earth, only 2 billion declare themselves as Christians. Perhaps that is why the world is going through so many difficulties, namely wars, hunger, persecution, disease and other ailments. “The greatest poverty is the lack of Christ,” as the Pope Francis taught us.
The Catholic Church – which is the Church of Christ – has always fought, from its origins, against the causes of poverty. Frederic Ozanam, the main founder, always asked to reflect on the causes of poverty, not only mitigate its consequences. Pope Francis points out that the fight against “material, moral and spiritual” poverty should be the priority of the Church. “When power, luxury and money become idols, they end up being above the requirement of an equitable distribution of wealth. Therefore, it is necessary that the consciences convert to justice, equality, moderation and sharing.”
The Pope’s message stresses that destitution “does not coincide with poverty;” destitution is “poverty without confidence, without solidarity, without hope.” “Many people are forced to endure destitution due to unjust social conditions, lack of work that deprives them of the dignity of bringing sustenance home, due to a lack of equality, of access to the right to health and education,” regrets the Pope (Lent message in 2014).
In human and social relations, the defence of individual rights can leave the poor even more distant from the recognition of their basic rights and their human dignity. Poverty is, largely, the result of the absence of a true solidarity, social justice, and Christian spirit. The same may happen among peoples. The Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical “Populorum Progressio” (1966), about the development of peoples, already recommended the “more privileged” countries to give up some of their advantages in order to offer, with more generosity, their property to the “poorer peoples.” Instead of insisting on the assertion of their rights, the richest economies should pay attention to the clamour of the poorest (cf. 289).
The SSVP international General Council takes advantage of the date of the “World Day of the Poor” to invite all the Vincentian Conferences in the world to reflect on the situation of exclusion, vulnerability and poverty (material and spiritual) in which we live. From the very beginning, in 1833, our founders set for us these purposes: to pray and to work for the eradication of the various forms of poverty, seeking the dignity of the underprivileged for their integration in the community life, bringing them the joy of the Gospel. Saint Vincent de Paul tells us: “Give me a man of prayer and he will be able of anything.”
The General Council firmly reiterates that all our international structure is always ready to act on the eradication of all the forms of poverty. Let us join other entities, organizations, and initiatives having the same purpose, so that the “World Day of the Poor” is not just a day, but a daily regular action of fraternal and solidarity assistance, for the good of humanity and for the honour and glory of Jesus Christ.
I finish this text quoting a very emotional passage of Pope Francis’ message on the celebration of the “World Day of the Poor” in 2017: “Let us not think of the poor only as recipients of a good work of volunteering, practiced once a week, let alone of improvised gestures of good will to soothe our consciences. These experiences, although valid and useful (which certainly meet the needs of so many of our brothers and make up for the injustice that we often cause), should open us to a true encounter with the poor and give rise to a sharing, which would become a way of life.”
I beg all Conferences and Councils to engage effectively in the different activities scheduled in the Catholic parishes and dioceses in order to reflect on the “World Day of the Poor.”
Author: Renato Lima de Oliveira