World Day of the Poor: prayer and action in England and Wales
By Lisa Zengarini
In the current week leading to the World Day of the Poor, on Sunday November 14, Catholics in England and Wales have been encouraged to pray, reflect and engage in concrete actions against poverty by deepening their encounter with the poor in their communities, as asked by Pope Francis.
Pray, see, judge and act against poverty
To this end, Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the official social agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), and Redemptorist Publications, have produced a PDF resource for parishes, schools and individuals which includes a novena of prayer for the WDP and a See-Judge-Act exercise for groups. Also available on CSAN’s website is a downloadable Collective Worship PowerPoint for use in schools and accompanying Teachers’ Notes, to engage young people with the issues of poverty.
Growing poverty in Britain
In his introduction to the resource, CSAN Chief Executive Raymond Friel, notes that Britain too is facing growing poverty: “In 2019,” he writes, “according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2.4 million people in the UK, including 0.5 million children, experienced destitution at some point in the year, in other words they did not having enough to live on. The same report says that before the Coronavirus pandemic, 14.5 million people in the UK were caught up in poverty, equating to 1 in 5 people”.
Impact of COVID-19
He also notes that that poverty iBritain has worsened with the COVID-19 crisis: “Our society has been shaken by a global pandemic. Poverty which existed in our communities has been exposed and the hardest hit are those who were in poverty before the pandemic. Other types of poverty are on the increase, such as mental ill-health, domestic violence, food poverty”.
Developing a culture of encounter
Reflecting on the Day of the Poor, Friel says that, as Christians, we are all called “to follow the example of Jesus in loving God and neighbour, especially the most vulnerable”. “Developing a culture of encounter is a key theme for Pope Francis and an essential counter witness to what he describes as a culture of waste and indifference, a culture that casts aside human beings who are not considered to be productive or useful”, he points out.
Referring to this year’s theme, ‘The poor you will always have with you’ (Mark 14:7), from Jesus’s words at the Anointing in Bethany just before His Passion, Friel remarks that Jesus is not saying that we should not work to alleviate poverty: “There will always be poverty and injustice of some kind, but we are called to reduce its impact wherever we can”, he writes.
Challenging its structural causes
As Pope Francis points out, this entails encountering the poor, which is “more than just charity”, it “is genuine sharing, an establishment of community, a desire to get to know those who may have been invisible to us”, Friel says. Moreover – he continues - to work for the relief of poverty is not enough: we need to “challenge the structural causes of poverty”, as highlighted in the Encyclical Letter Fratelli tutti.
Many different forms of poverty
Friel’s reflection goes on to recall that in this year’s message for the Day, Pope Francis calls on the faithful to open their hearts “to recognizing the many different forms of poverty” existing today. There is material poverty, but there are also people who experience the poverty of isolation and loneliness, homelessness, modern day slavery, trafficking, relational poverty, abuse.
Deepening our encounter with the poor
The resources gathered by CSAN have been offered to the Catholic communities in England and Wales as a way of deepening their encounter with the poor, of examining their own conscience about their lifestyles and how their faith is expressed in loving action, Friel explains.
The proposed ‘See-Judge-Act’ exercise has been designed primarily for group use in a parish or a school to discern what actions might be taken. The novena has been offered as a way to help Catholics to prayerfully encounter in scripture God’s constant care for the poor and desire for more just relations in the community. Finally, the act of collective worship for schools in PowerPoint format has been offered as a way to engage young people with the questions of poverty, locally and globally.
Friel has also invited Catholics to find more details of the fifty charities members of CSAN engaged in different ways in tackling the causes of poverty, promoting justice and restoring dignity on CSAN’s website.
Bringing hope to a wounded world
Friel concludes his reflection with these words: “From its entry onto the world stage in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, the Christian community was known for its service to the poor. This sign is needed now more than ever. The world is looking for hope.”