A tweet by Pope Francis about poverty, especially different and new forms of poverty forced me to stop and reflect on poverty, and my role in it.
We must not turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalization that prevent people from living a life of dignity.— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 21, 2017
What we think of when we hear the word poverty is a fairly narrow set of situations, a lack of food, shelter, and clothing. It’s a problem that has been with us for thousands of years, and it’s rooted in systems of economy and society that do not see all people as brothers and sisters, as children of God. Poverty is the denial of a person's dignity by dividing yourself from another any time we think to ourselves “I am not responsible for that person”. In this way we deny their dignity, and this mentality is at the root of all social justice issues, and the root of poverty of many forms.
Many parts of the world are in strife, political upheavals, military actions, and armed conflicts throughout the world today deny people of their physical safety and security, creating a new poverty of safety and security. Many refugees flee these terrible situations, yet in fleeing they do not gain safety and remain not only poor in food, shelter and clothing, but continue to be poor in safety as the violence they flee follows them.
Even still, with the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing and safety met, many are lonely and isolated. Elders who have lost their spouses and whose children have moved away, people isolated from others due to anxiety, or depression, or single adults who cannot find meaningful relationships, all suffer a poverty of companionship. Christ kept His twelve apostles and family close not only because they were to teach us after His ascension, but also because as a human, He needed companionship as do we.
While some seek and are able to achieve higher education, many more are unable to receive even basic grade school levels due to economic, or societal restrictions, creating a poverty of knowledge, where those yearning for education can not obtain it. Very few countries even in Europe and North America pay for education outside of grade school levels, leaving many unable to afford meaningful educational options.
In many countries around the world, health care is still purchased as a service, where those individuals who are sick and suffering must find a way to pay for their health. Many people are unable to receive the treatments they need to live, simply out of economic situation creating a poverty of health.
From all walks of life people suffer silently through mental illness, whether it be OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) or schizophrenia, often times these people do not seek or are unable to receive the help and support they need. Living in poverty of help they must continue, often times unsuccessfully to cope with their illness.
It would be easy to look at the “types of poverty” I’ve just mentioned as being caused by a lack of money, but that is just a symptom of the real issue at hand. In every one of those poverties someone somewhere has said “that person's problem is not mine, it’s not my job to fix it, or take care of them”, someone has robbed that person of their dignity as a child of God and elevated their own dignity at another's expense.
As Christians, we hear Christ tell us repeatedly we are called to be brothers and sisters, not just in name, but in deed. We are called to attack poverty, in any form, head on, not with a dismissive “It’s not my problem”, but with the spirit of love, compassion, and willingness to become involved.
There are many types of poverty, more than I have mentioned here, yet they are all an issue of dignity, an issue of social justice, they are all OUR issues, which we are called to take care of by helping our brothers and sisters, because we are all children of one God.
God of justice and compassion,
We ask forgiveness for the widening gulf between rich and poor,
For the use of money as a measure of all things,
For the culture of self-gratification where we turn a blind eye to the suffering of others,
For the continuing disparities between our actions and what we are called to do and be.
For failing to engage in the complexity of social issues.
And forgive us for going along with what is easy,
Fill us with a living faith that we may become fruitful seeds of your kingdom,
Continually growing in Your way of love.
Open our eyes to the poverty around us,
help us to see opportunities to love others,
give us the strength and courage to stand up for our brothers and sisters,
To be instruments of change,
bearers of your compassion and mercy,
Champions of justice and equality.
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our Prayer.