The Voices – Cries – of the Poor… Who Will Listen?

by | Nov 15, 2018 | News, Vincentian Family, Vincentian Family at the U.N.

On November 18 we will celebrate the second World Day of the Poor, instituted by Pope Francis to raise ecclesial and social awareness of the importance of fighting together against poverty in solidarity with the poor. The World Day of the Poor is meant to be a small contribution that the whole Church can make so the poor may know their cries have not gone unheard, the Pope said in his message.

The slogan of this day, “This poor man cried out and the Lord listened to him” (Ps 34,7) explains the Pope, saying that, “The Lord listens to those who, trampled in their dignity, still find the strength to look up to him for light and comfort. He listens to those persecuted in the name of a false justice, oppressed by policies unworthy of the name, and terrified by violence, yet know that God is their Savior… This experience, unique and in many ways undeserved and inexpressible, makes us want to share it with others, especially those who, like the Psalmist, are poor, rejected and marginalized. No one should feel excluded from the Father’s love, especially in a world that often presents wealth as the highest goal and encourages self-centeredness.” (Message of Pope Francis for the Second World Day of the Poor).

Poor people enjoy to a much lesser extent the fundamental rights of human beings than those who are not poor… ordinarily their voices are ignored with cynicism in our society. This situation causes the poor to cry out to God for help, since he knows that God always listens to him/her! This journey of the poor is an extraordinary opportunity for the Vincentian Family to remember its fundamental vocation: to be close to the poor, to hear their cries and from there be the presence of God who, with our ears, listens to them, and who also helps them by using our own hands, our compassion, our systemic action and our political advocacy.

The links between poverty and rights are not evident to those who do not live in poverty. A few years ago, the World Bank conducted a study entitled, “The Voices of the Poor,” for which they interviewed 20,000 poor people around the world. One of the most striking conclusions was that poor people often mention their sense of helplessness and lack of rights. The problems cited by the poor tend to surprise those who are not poor: crime or local corruption, the attitudes of social and public employees, being ridiculed when expressing themselves about oppressive social conditions, husbands stealing property from their wives, etc.

There are many traps of poverty and vicious cycles that keep people in a state of inhumane poverty. This poverty of many -the majority- benefits a few because in our current economic system poverty is functional, it is a part of a complex scheme that needs poor people to fulfil its goals. The cycle of poverty is not broken if the possession of land, health, nutrition, basic education, credit and insurance, access to new technologies, a stable and non-degraded environment, personal emancipation, political participation, etc. are an exclusive right of the so-called privileged of the land. The Sustainable Development Goals (UN Agenda 2030) are based on the human desire to eradicate poverty by creating social, structural and environmental conditions that allow the life of the poor to flourish from the fundamental respect of all their rights and the rights of the planet.

Poverty is pain, a pain that causes poor people to cry out. Poor people suffer physical pain that can be caused by hunger, sickness and long hours of work; emotional pain stemming from the daily humiliations of dependency and the lack of power, and the moral pain of being forced to make decisions, such as using all of life’s savings to save the life of a sick family member or using those same funds to feed their children. If poverty is so painful, why are the poor still poor? The poor are not lazy, stupid or corrupt. Why, then, is poverty so persistent?

These are some of the causes of the persistence of poverty in the world:

  1. States are largely ineffective in addressing the basic needs of the poor… corruption and lack of political will are the main causes.
  2. The role of NGOs and charitable groups in the lives of the poor is limited, and the poor depend mainly on their own informal networks.
  3. Households are collapsing under the stress of poverty. The home as a social institution is crumbling under the weight of poverty.
  4. The social fabric, the only “safe” of the poor, is falling apart … due to growing inequalities, exclusion, no-education, discrimination, lack of opportunities.
  5. The inequality gap between the poor and the rich grows at a scandalous rate with the complicity of political leaders and it is motivated largely by an unlimited greed of the powerful of the land…

Listening to the voice of the poor in this context means coming to terms with these realities:

  1. Starting with the realities / needs of the poor … listening to their voices
  2. Investing in the organizational capacity of the poor … leading them out of poverty.
  3. Changing social norms, especially those rules of exclusion, indifference, lack of opportunities.
  4. Supporting the creativity and leadership of the poor, trusting the ability of the poor to find their own way …
  5. Involve political and social leaders, and politically influence sustainable systemic change …

It seems to me that Psalm 34, used as a slogan in this year’s journey, gives us an essential clue in our work for and with the poor. We have written a lot about the faces of the poor, and not enough about their voices. The most radical act of solidarity with the poor today is to see them (to be conscious) but above all to listen to them, to hear their cries, to know their needs, to hear their voices! This listening produces the dialogical perspective, the encounter and therefore the humanization of all actions, on the side and in favor of the poor, as Pope Francis has articulated it in his message this year. Our ultimate goal can be to stop being the voice of the poor so that the actual voice of the poor, their cry, is heard for itself, without intermediaries.

Guillermo Campuzano, CM is the Congregation of the Mission UN representative