A Wide-Angle Lens On the Cries of the Poor

by | May 27, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections, Systemic change | 3 comments

Pope Francis asks us to put a wide-angle lens for the plight of the poor.

Pope Francis has asked us to reflect on Laudato Si during this coming year

He does so very pointedly with an observation and a question.

“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (160). This question is at the heart of Laudato si’.

“…the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

The deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”.[26]

Now, this earth, mistreated and abused, is lamenting, and its groans join those of all the forsaken of the world. Pope Francis invites us to listen to them, urging each and every one – individuals, families, local communities, nations and the international community – to an “ecological conversion”, according to the expression of Saint John Paul II.

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (229).

Putting a face to problems

My confrere, Fr. Joe Fitzgerald of the Eastern Province recently published a reflection In US Catholic.. Having worked there for 15 years he puts a face on our ministry with the indigenous people of Panama he tells their story in an engaging way (I write this on his birthday!)

Having lived and ministered among the indigenous Ngäbe people of Panama, I believe they can be clear signs of another possible world.
The Ngäbe understand all of creation and the cosmos as Ju Ngöbökwe (God’s house).

After sharing moving insights into their life and values, he summarizes much pain and suffering as he writes:

In 2012 thousands of indigenous Ngäbe families came down from the mountains to block a 50-mile stretch of the Inter-American Highway in peaceful protest of the government’s abrupt change in mining law, which would expose the indigenous Ngäbe lands to open-pit mineral mining and devastate the forest and the rivers. As the Ngäbe viewed it, this would be the final stage in eliminating them as a people with their own worldview, culture, language, and mode of life.

Accompanying the Ngäbe through several years of mining and dam protest, witnessing their fierce determination and unity in the face of threats to this patch of God’s creation to which their cultural identity is so intimately connected, and seeing their refusal to accept the promises of supposed “progress” that such projects would bring has brought me to a clearer understanding: The poverty of ecological degradation and cultural annihilation cannot be mitigated by a simple rise in economic indicators. It’s worth noting that no ritual or act of reciprocity in the Ngäbe vision can bring balance and equilibrium for the intentional destruction of whole forests or ecosystems.

Grateful for the profound impact the Ngäbe have had in my own life and faith journey, I hope the wider church comes to see the particular ways in which our indigenous brothers and sisters manifest God’s reign in many profound and simple ways, giving us glimpses of the other possible world.

The cost of really understanding Laudato Si is high because it involves personal conversion.

Reflecting on the words of Pope Francis and the experience of Fr. Fitzgerald in Panama

What we can learn?

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (229).

We have forgotten that “we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

“To achieve such reconciliation, we must examine our lives and acknowledge the ways in which we have harmed God’s creation through our actions and our failure to act. We need to experience a conversion, or change of heart”.[153]


  • Just because we do not hear these cries of the poor does that mean they don’t exist for Vincentians?
  • Do we recognize the need for our own conversion of heart?
  • Will our personal conversion lead us to work for the systemic change required?


  1. Ross

    Thanks, John, as always. This morning I read your reflection even before praying Lauds. It helped me, honestly, to pray, praise and recognize God’s lordship over creation: “He holds in his hands the depths of the earth and the highest mountains as well. He made the sea; it belongs to him, the dryland, too, for it was formed by his hands” (Ps 95, 4-5).

    It also prompted me to pray, in particular, for the Ngäbe and Fr. Joe Fitzgerald and, in general, for all the victims of the greed and covetousness of those who hunger insatiably for wealth, and for these, too, and for ourselves, so that we all may “practice virtue and speak honestly, spurn what is gained by oppression and brush their hands free of contact with bribes” (Is 33, 15).

    To pray also that the sea and all within it thunder, rivers clap their hands, hills ring out their joy, and all of us acclaim the King, the Lord, rejoicing in his presence (Ps 98, 4-9), letting the Spirit—not the spirit of the world that is rooted in evil—guide us (see Intercessions).

    • Ross

      Please let me add another thing that I prayed for this morning, but forgot to include in my earlier reply (such forgetting is usual for me when I get going).

      That is, that I prayed also for church leaders that no one of them become a stooge of those who would claim to defend religion and religious freedom, even as they undermine and openly go against the fundamentals of the Church’ teaching on social justice. I find it interesting that Cardinal Cupich says in his article in America Magazine (https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/05/26/cardinal-cupich-how-vatican-ii-can-help-us-navigate-politics-pandemic):

      “As such, when the church engages the state, it should not limit itself to explicitly “religious” issues. Nor should it engage the state exclusively on issues of self-interest—for example, the protection of religious institutions.”

      Come back, Cardinal Bernardin! Or have you already?

  2. Michelle Loisel

    So much to think and to pray for these days: Environment, global warming, Migration, homelessness, human trafficking, and of course much more. You put a wide-angle lens and you see that all these realities are connected and always the poorest are suffering.
    Thank you, John to remind us to open our Vincentian eyes and act with our Vincentian heart.
    Like Ross, I read your reflection before going to Laudes.