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Listening to the Cry of the Poor Today

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Aporofobia is a Spanish word, coined by ethicist Adela Cortina. It is composed of two Greek words: aporoi or poor, and fobia or fear, dislike, rejection, hatred of the poor. It was the selected word in Spain for the year 2017, and it is already officially entered in the Spanish Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Language. Thereafter it was translated into English as aporophobia (cf. Google, Wikipedia). The word aporophobia came to my mind when I was reading Pope Francis’ Message for the Third World Day of the Poor, or the Sunday of the Poor, which is the Thirty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, this year November 17.  

            I wish to present here this important papal message and add some running comments. The papal message entitled The Hope of the Poor Shall not Perish Forever is a brief (10 numbers in 4 pages) and simple (no footnotes). It is very readable, thought to provoke and inspiring. Let me divide it into three basic headings – plus one: the situation of the poor in our world; the teaching of faith on the poor, and the responsibility and commitment of Christians in particular to the promotion of the poor around us and in the world. Plus, one more heading: concluding remarks

THE POOR IN OUR WORLD

            Commenting Psalm 9, Pope Francis points out that the “condition of the poor and the arrogance of those who oppress them” in the time of the Psalmist is similar to the condition of the poor today: a terrible “inequitable distribution of wealth.” Unfortunately, “we see before us a multitude of poor people often maligned and barely tolerated” (Message, no, 2). Certainly, “the economic crisis has not prevented large groups of people from accumulating fortunes that often appear all the more incongruous when, in the streets of our cities, we daily encounter great numbers of the poor who lack the basic necessities of life and are at times harassed and exploited” (no. 1).  The Argentine Pope mentions different forms of bondage that enslaves millions of men, women and children, including in particular families, orphans, young people, victims of different kinds of violence, migrants, the homeless, and many other poor people, who are considered by many others as parasites on society, and simply useless because they are poor (no. 2). In her pace-setting book Aporofobia, el rechazo al pobre (the rejection of the poor, 2017), Adela Cortina says that the poor are unethically rejected because they are poor and do not contribute anything to society.

            The poor are not just “statistics” but persons – young and old - equal to all others, with the same God-given dignity: they are the lonely, “the oppressed, the lowly and the downcast” (nos. 9 & 5).

TEACHING OF FAITH ON THE POOR

            The Sacred Scriptures abound in texts telling us that God is close to the poor, who are especially loved by him (no. 10). Pope Francis mentions some texts from Psalms and prophets. God is their helper, their refuge and protector (cf. Ps 10:14). God ‘hears the cry of the poor and ‘comes to their aid’ and ‘protects’ them. He ‘defends’ them and ‘rescues’ and ‘saves’ them (no. 4). The good Lord does justice to the orphan and the oppressed (Ps 10:18). Humans may build walls and close their doors to the poor. However, and as described by the prophets, “the day of the Lord (cf. Am 5:18; Is 2-5) will destroy the barriers created between nations and replace the arrogance of the few with the solidarity of many”(no. 4).

 Jesus, the Beatitude of God starts his preaching of the Kingdom of God thus: “Blessed are you who are poor” (Lk 6:20). He came to preach the Good News to the poor by his words and, above all, by his life. He is poor and very close to the poor and outcasts. Clearly, “Jesus was not afraid to identify with each of them” (no. 4).

The Church, one people, includes everyone in “a shared journey of salvation”. She is called “to ensure that no one feels a stranger or outcast” (no. 6).

The option for the poor, Pope Francis teaches repeatedly, is “a priority that Christ’s followers are called to pursue so as not to impugn the Church’s credibility but to give real hope to many of our vulnerable brothers and sisters” (no. 7). As we have often heard, this option is not optional but essential part of the option for Christ, who is the priority of life. The option for the poor is an obligatory option of justice, fraternity, and solidarity.

RESPONSIBILITY AND COMMITMENT TO THE POOR

            The responsibility of giving hope to the poor and marginalized is in the hands of men and women of goodwill and of the followers of Jesus, of the whole Christina community. This responsibility is so important that “the credibility of the proclamation and the witness of Christians depend on it” (no. 5). Writes Pope Francis: “The situation of the poor obliges us not to keep our distance from the body of the Lord, who suffers in the poor. Instead, we are called to touch his flesh and to be personally committed to offering a service that is an authentic form of evangelization” (no. 6).

            Our responsibility to the poor entails “commitment to the promotion of the poor,” to their social promotion, too. The required love for all, for the poor in particular, is diametrically opposed to “stifling individualism” and to a kind of spirituality that centers on “spiritual intimacy” with no concern for social life (no. 6; cf. EG 183). A marvelous example of committed responsibility is Jean Vanier, who devoted his whole life to our brothers and sisters with grave disabilities, “people whom society often tends to exclude” (no 6).

            Christians are called today to be witnesses of Christian hope, to accompany the poor in our society, a consumeristic society misguided by an inhuman and immoral culture of waste. Assistance to the poor is good, but not enough. I remember the words of St. Paul: “If I give all I have…, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor 13:3). This love for the poor is expressed in effective and continuing concern for the poor, which comprises establishing “a true fraternal dialogue,” manifested in “a gaze of love and an outstretched hand.”  Our poor brothers and sisters need not only material help but also spiritual care; its absence is “the worst discrimination the poor suffer.” Giving hope to the poor is exemplified in stopping “for a moment, smile and listen,” pronounce a friendly word” to them (nos. 8-9).

            Words to ponder: “The poor need our hands, to be lifted up; our hearts, to feel anew the warmth of affection; our presence, to overcome loneliness. In a word, they need love” (no. 8). They need fraternal love. I remember Leo Tolstoy. Once a beggar asked him for alms. The great Russian writer answered him: “Brother, today I have nothing to give you,” and embraced him. The beggar responded:  “You have given me the best: you called me brother.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

             How do we see the Message of Pope Francis for the third World day of the Poor? Some among us might conclude that Pope Francis presents the really negative situation of poverty and the poor a bit too negatively. Others might comment that the Message is too radical when speaking of the obligatory option for the poor for all Christians. Most Christians I suppose will concur with its teaching, which is basic and traditional, and will praise the continuing admirable efforts of Pope Francis to give practical guidelines to carry out in daily life the Church’s teaching on the poor.

            Personally I believe that the Argentine Pope is being totally faithful to the teaching of our faith rooted in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition (especially the Fathers of the Church like Saint Basil and St. Ambrose, and great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas). The Argentine Pope tries hard – and succeeds - showing us simple ways to witness our love for the poor. Generally speaking, here is – I submit - our weakness:  not ignorance of the teaching but lack of practice, or orthopraxys (correct practice), which means living a simple life, and loving and promoting the poor around us and in the world.

One recalls clearly that the first Christians celebrated the Lord’s Supper thus: Reading of the Word of God and meditating upon it; Breaking of the Bread, and weekly collection with the purpose of assisting the poor and needy in the community. Alms to the poor continue to be for our part of the Eucharistic celebration.

We all known the clear, simple and striking words from Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me… Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least…, you did it to me” (Mt 25:35-36, 40). Pope Francis comments: If we fail to make this identification with the poor – like Jesus -, “we falsify the Gospel and water down God’s revelation” (no. 5).        

There are different kinds of discrimination in our world, various phobias: xenophobia (rejection of foreigners), homophobia (rejection of homosexuals and the different), and aporophobia or rejection of the poor. As human persons of goodwill and as Christians we are asked by our humanity and our faith to be – like God, like Jesus, like all the saints – on the side of the poor, and assist and walk with them. Thus, we replace aporohobia by aporophiliaor love of the poor.

May the celebration of the World Day of the Poor make us deeply aware of the presence of the poor in our midst, and of our responsibility and commitment to them in justice, fraternity and solidarity!

By Fr. Fausto Gomez OP.

(original text)