A Reflection on the World Day of the Poor (14 November 2021)

Dear Fellow Caritas Friends,
The Poor will always be among you. Of course we know it’s a citation from Jesus, that is related in the
bible, in the Gospel of Mark, with a parallel in Matthew. Yet as Caritas we feel a bit uneasy – didn’t we
make the eradication of poverty our main concern?

Many of us would eventually like to sympathize with Judas, who gets angry at the Lord and who would
have preferred to sell the ointment – worth a year’s salary! – to distribute the money among the poor.
How much fundraising was needed to compensate for that?

As many times, Jesus’ answer is unexpectedly different. Jesus doesn’t talk in black and white, but He
confronts his audience with other dimensions, beyond our gaze. These might look controversial, to His
contemporaries as to us now. By introducing the World Day of the Poor, pope Francis does exactly the
same.

Maybe the main red thread we can discern behind this response of the Lord and throughout the whole
gospel is this one: the poor are not to be seen as a bunch of (very) thankful receivers, who are at our
mercy, and whose task it is to provide us, donors, with a good feeling. On the contrary, they are our fellow
human beings who share their existence – and the planet – with us.

Let us briefly elaborate on this, with a few examples, and ask ourselves some questions.
The woman who anointed the Lord was not poor, but even for her it will have been quite an expense. She
decided to spend her money on doing just this. Yet this was not an issue for Judas… How often do we judge
others on the way they behave, on the choices they make? Stop the wasting of means, give it to Caritas…
Sometimes, we also have similar reactions when it comes to the choices the poor might make. We are
wanting to help them, but only if we can decide on how to use the money. Do they really need a TV-screen,
or jewelry, or…? Are the poor allowed to have their own choices and preferences? Pope Francis rightly
quotes Saint John Chrysostom on this: ‘Those who are generous should not ask for an account of the poor’s
conduct, but only improve their condition of poverty and satisfy their need.’ If we give only to control, we
are not giving, but keeping people dependent.

We are used to live in political environments where ‘aid’ and ‘subsidies’ are conditional, and very often on
a means-tested basis. Very often such conditions are also imposed on us, by back-donors as well as
national authorities. Often though, we still add to that a kind of ‘use-tested’ morality. We can help you, as
long as you use it for what we decide you can use it for. This might not be in line with what we mean when
we say the Gospel means ‘Good News’, and is a liberation message, that brings joy and sets us free.

The Poor will always be among us, that is true: even if we eradicate all structural poverty, the course of
nature and life will make that some will be in need, and we’ll have to intervene. Flooding, earthquakes and
other natural disasters, the consequences of climate change as well as man-made catastrophes like wars
and armed conflicts are beyond the responses of social security systems. The same may happen on an
individual basis. Caritas will always be needed.

Yet, positions may change: fate may strike anyone. There are people who are struck by poverty – and
others who are not. But we are all part of God’s Humanity. We all share the same journey towards a more
integrally and humanly developed world, reflecting the contours of the Kingdom Jesus announced us.
Hence there cannot be a separate category of people we deal with differently: the poor. We are not
helping a specific category of people, that stands aside: we are helping some of the members of our one
human family. We cannot ‘objectivize’ the poor, since we are one.

This is exactly the main message of the World Day of the Poor: it is the day of the poor, when we should
realize that they are undeniably part of our communities and even part of our own lives. In that way they
truly evangelize us. It is not the World Day for the Poor, where they would be entitled to receive yet
another package of aid.

The gift the poor are entitled to on this Day of the Poor, is that they are equally part of God’s human family,
all sheep of the one flock, and that all should recognize them as such, and treat them accordingly. In the
Caritas history, we have seen a shift from ‘for the poor’ to ‘with the poor’, but including as well ‘as the
poor’: as they say in Spanish: por los pobres, con los pobres, como los pobres. The Poor will teach us how.

Let us end this short reflection with the strong image of the offerings at the Eucharist. It recalls us a deeply
inspiring experience at a celebration in Salvador do Bahia, where during the offerings a lot of baskets full
of bread were brought forward. At the end of the Eucharist, all people remained in the Church and shared
their meal together; afterwards the remaining bread was taken home by those who could most benefit
from it.
Could they have taken home more, if the more well off people would not have eaten with them? Surely.
But by eating together, all were part of the same community, in the presence of the Risen Lord, giving the
Eucharist its true meaning. To close the parenthesis in a certain way: they were anointed by the fraternity
of their fellow parishioners, giving them a strong sense of belonging, the kind of food that lasts.

On this World Day of the Poor, let us truly share, not just give, let us truly embrace, not just meet. So that
the Living God will always be among us on our common journey. As the Holy Father concludes his message:
‘how evangelical it would be if we could say with all truth: we too are poor, because only in this way will
we truly be able to recognize them, to make them part of our lives and an instrument of our salvation’.

Amen.

Msgr Pierre Cibambo, CI Ecclesiastical Assistant
Dominic Verhoeven, Chair of the Catholic Identity Committee

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