Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation

Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate  United States Province

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International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: October 17 2013

October 4th, 2013

Be mindful of this day! Be mindful of the poor! – Fr. Ken Forster, OMI


You, the poor and needy, the world considers you the scum of society unbearable in its sight. That is what the world thinks of you.

Come learn from us what you are through the eyes of faith.

“You are the poor of Jesus Christ, my brethren, my dear brethren, my dear respectable brethren, listen to me. You are the children of God.

The brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, the inheritors with Jesus Christ of the kingdom of God.

The cherished portion of his inheritance, in the words of St. Peter, you are a holy nation, a people set apart, in some way, you are gods. So lift up your heads, stop crawling on the earth. Raise yourselves towards heaven.

For once, let your eyes see through the rags you wear, you have been created in the image of God; you have been redeemed at the cost of the blood of Jesus Christ.

You are more precious before God than all the riches of the world, than all the kingdoms of the earth.

Therefore, O Christians, recognize your dignity….”

God reveals himself in Scripture as the one who has taken the “side of the poor.”

“(He) defends the cause of the poor, and delivers the weak and the needy from those who despoil them.” Psalm 72:4

Why does God stand on the side of the poor? Does God love the poor more than the rich?

Is being poor a sign of holiness? We know that the poor struggle with sin as much as the rich, even if the sin they love be different from the habitual sins of the rich.

“True discipleship takes the side always, always, always of the poor despite the power of the rich, not because the poor are more virtuous than the rich but because the God of love wills for them what the rich ignore for them.” Sr. Joan Chitister

Though the poor struggle with their sin as well as the rich, perhaps they are taught to live in solidarity with one another in the way that the rich do not. The poor need to support one another in everyday struggles. When someone is ill or has died, or some basic need for food or education, the poor reach out to one another. When I first began to work in Kenya, I came upon something that shocked me. A person came to me to inform me that his mother had died in Nkubu Catholic Hospital. I asked what day they planned to have the funeral mass. He said he didn’t know. They had to arrange a “Maketha” (a harvest of the pockets) to pay the hospital bill. Until then the hospital holds the body in the morgue as collateral. So everyone in the village contributes because your mother or sister could be next. The rich more easily can remain independent from one another. So the poor by their very poverty are bound more closely to one another.

Yet we know that the poor too can be as greedy and selfish as the rich. They can make terrible decisions with their lives. God stands on the side of the poor because they are poor, not because they are holy. God is on the side of the poor because they are oppressed.

Fr. Jorge Alvarez, a Peruvian Theologian, shared this insight with me years ago. I hope it will help you as it did me: “What is the desire of a father or mother for their family? Do not the parents of the family want their children to love one another and share equally in the riches of the family? If one of the weaker members of the family is being oppressed by one of the stronger, on whose side will the parent stand? Always the weaker. Why? Does the parent love the weaker one more? No. He loves them equally and that is why he upholds the rights of the needy.”

Are we the family of God? Do I love my neighbor as myself? Are the needs of my neighbor as important to me as my own felt needs? The real message we need to hear is more along the lines: The best things in life are not “things.”

Can I come in touch with my own poverty? In experiencing our own poverty we are able to understand the lot of others who are poor, with much more tolerance, compassion, and empathy. Our experience of poverty and weakness can move us to solidarity with them in their need.

Those who are “poor in spirit” are those who recognize their dependence on God, not on material possessions. I have met a few people who are very materially wealthy and yet very poor because their “stuff” really means nothing to them. All that matters is to be in right relationships. I have been blessed in my life to know a family who themselves lived in a simple farm house, yet they shared in a tremendously generous way to assist us in working with the people’s contribution and CIDA to build a Water Project that serves over two thousand family farms in Kenya. A miracle to find people with hearts that big. Woe to those who are rich, filled, content but refuse to take care of their deprived brothers and sisters. Wealth becomes a curse when it is not shared with those in need.

Rabindanrath Tagore writes our prayer for this occasion:

“Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might.”

The 2013 Commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP) will be held on Thursday, 17 October at United Nations Headquarters in New York, focusing on the theme – “Working together towards a world without discrimination: Building on the experience and knowledge of people in extreme poverty”.

The 2013 theme highlights the discrimination that people face on a daily basis because of poverty, their marginalization in the political, economic and social spheres of their societies, and their lack of voice and representation in the conceptualisation, implementation and evaluation of policies and programmes that affect them directly and indirectly.

Our societies too often ignore or undervalue the knowledge of people living in the worst situations of poverty because we assume wrongly that people who lack so much in terms of material wealth, social position and political power, must also lack any knowledge or understanding that could be useful to others. Despite the best intentions of governments, development agencies and donors, our current efforts to formulate, implement and evaluate policies and programmes to eradicate poverty have largely overlooked or ignored the unique knowledge based on the experience that people living in the worst conditions have accumulated, in some cases, over several generations. As a result, all too often, the policies and programmes meant to eradicate poverty are ill-adapted to the needs, realities and expectations of the people they are supposed to be helping.

As the United Nations prepares its global development agenda for the post-2015 period, it is critical that people living in extreme poverty should have sufficient space and attention within the process in order to elaborate on and add to existing knowledge about poverty, discrimination and human rights violations.

Watch persons affected by poverty share their views at the official commemoration at UN headquarters, live on UN webcast on 17 October.



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