26Mar ‘And don’t forget the poor’

And Don’t Forget the Poor.

“I’ve been down so long I think this is up” is the title of a book I read years ago and it accurately reflects my feelings and hopes at this point of time. With the election of a new pope, with the very significant name of Francis, there is every reason to believe that we can get out of the quagmire in which we have been floundering for the last 30 years. Once again it is the poor who will save us, bring us back to a sense of reality and mission. The core of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Beatitudes and they begin with “blessed are the poor”. In a world disillusioned with negative equity, bankers’ bonuses, unrepayable mortgages, incomprehensible economic jargon and a dead paper tiger it is time to get back to the real world. In these first moments Pope Francis is sending out a very clear message, carnival time at the medieval court of Peter is over, smoke signals must give way to twitter and facebook, red buttons and silly clothes are for the Via Veneto and Grafton St.

And don’t forget the poor. These were the words whispered to him by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, retired archbishop of São Paulo, immediately after his election. For those of us who have spent most of our lives here in Latin America these words have a special significance. It brings us back to Medellin, Colombia and the year 1968. That was the year of the student revolts in Europe and elsewhere, sending shockwaves through all the institutions, civil and religious, who duly began to pull up the drawbridges. Everything since must be seen in the light of these events. But a very different chain of events was unfolding in this part of the world. In 1968 the bishops of all Latin America met in Medellin to see how Vatican 2 could be applied to their reality. The result was a body of documents which were really revolutionary and the key phrase that was coined was “preferential option for the poor”. It too was to send shockwaves in all directions. Soon the cavalry were riding to the rescue, with military dictatorships springing up all over the subcontinent, orchestrated by Big Brother. It took a long time and a lot of grinding repression before the poor were again pushed off the scene. But the truth will out and the truth will set you free. Once more the poor are back on centre stage, but now at a world level. There is no going back.

Poverty is one of the scourges of our age. Of course it always has been. Today there is no excuse. We have the technology. All we need is the political will and that depends on who is at the helm. Hence the importance of political awareness and engagement, not just casting a vote at election time to choose between candidates who have been selected by the oligarchy. Poverty is not just being hungry and not having a decent home. Poverty is not having control of your destiny and this is where the education factor comes into play, but education which excludes nobody. Inevitably the phrase of the great champion of the poor, Dom Helder Cámara, the archbishop of Recife in the northeast of Brazil who died a few years ago, comes to mind, “when I give bread to the poor they call me a saint but when I ask why they are poor they call me a communist”.
Hope springs eternal. We hope for a Church with more transparency, more open to dialogue with other religions and civil society and above all with all the members of the Church itself. We hope for a Church with more concern for people and less for the institution, more emphasis on the sacrament of Baptism and less on separation of clergy and laity. We hope that the example of St. Francis with regard to poverty, peace and ecology will help all humanity to grow into one great family.

Tony Conry.

7 Responses

  1. Fergus P Egan


    If I could reach out over the internet I would shake your hand!
    Thank you for your insight and focus on poverty.

    For too long we have had the image of the “Poor” as those who are undesirable and of a lower class. They are ignorant, rude, dirty, belligerent, untrustworthy etc etc.
    Give them some crumbs to make them disappear from sight, and out of mind.

    Tony, I agree with your statement “Poverty is not having control of your destiny and this is where the education factor comes into play, but education which excludes nobody.”

    Education is a fundamental and necessary step. But it goes beyond that. Do you remember the drive to replace breast-milk with formula? Or the seeds required by farmers being withheld from them in favour of genetically altered seeds? Or the choice to plant self-sustaining crops in favour of market crops to supply the international market at controlled prices? Well, babies got sick and died; crops were unable to produce a second generation of seed; fertile soil was rendered unfertile. And there are a million examples – or perhaps a billion examples – of lives manipulated and controlled, and ultimately impoverished by famine sickness and neglect. All this is caused by the greed of the powerful.

    Forgive me if I over simplify. It is difficult to express such an immense problem in a few sentences. I am not as rich as most contributors in level of education, or in the ability to convey persuasive arguments. But one does not require a college degree to see the injustice and devastation caused by the greed of a few powerful entities.

    Granted, there are many rich and powerful people who are good. But machines of commerce and global powers have become greater that the sum of the individuals that staff them.
    Nor is the institutional church immune from this. And for the same reasons – a few rich/powerful people in control, and unanswerable to the poor. (Oh, Yeah! The “poor” in this sense are us, those who have no say and no representation.)

    How will this Francis rebuild the Church? Can he dismantle the machine that controls it?

    Fergus P Egan

  2. Tom Andre

    While I do agree with most of what you say, i do want to point out that the beatitude says “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. It does mean something a bit different than the same sentence without the last two words.

  3. Nuala O'Driscoll

    In a hierarchical Church as in a hierarchical society, a monarchy for example, the needs of the poor will be somewhere down the ladder of priorities. The ‘preferential option for the poor’ espoused by the liberation theologists of Latin America was frowned on by the hierarchical Church in the past. If Pope Francis makes the poor a priority he may just turn things around. Van Morrison asks ‘wheres God’ on his latest CD. Modern science and technology has made God redundant for many of us. I think turning the hierarchical triangle upside down, putting the needs of poor on top, will not only help us to recover the core message of Jesus, but by adapting it to current situations it may just make the Gospel message relevant again.

  4. Mary O Vallely

    We won’t forget and we mustn’t forget the poor, both the financially poor and the spiritually poor. This is Papa Bergoglio at the Chrism mass.
    ‘A good priest can be recognized by the way his people are anointed. When our people are anointed with the oil of gladness, it is obvious: for example, when they leave Mass looking as if they have heard good news. Our people like to hear the Gospel preached with “unction”, they like it when the Gospel we preach touches their daily lives, when it runs down like the oil of Aaron to the edges of reality, when it brings light to moments of extreme darkness, to the “outskirts” where people of faith are most exposed to the onslaught of those who want to tear down their faith,” Francis said.’

  5. Patrick Daly

    The 1968 Brazilian Bishops ‘Option for the Poor’ Called the church to action … and The Base Christian communities became in many ways the vehicle of that action …. could their call for the radial action, solidarity and engagment have been acheived with out this base communities?
    And why did we never see the emerge of such grass root christian expression here in Ireland ?? And could we ever?
    The story of the BCCs for me is a contemporary picture to the simillar accounts of the earliest believers in the NT period. I would love to see a movement like this emerge in Ireland… catholic or broader christian… The gap between the offical institutaional aspects of the church and ordinary people, especally those who feel disengaged and disconncted, is huge. Could small christian faith communities become a vehicle for the the renewal of fiath and mission at community level. I hope so.

    To discuss and explore further, come along to a seminar on Expressions of Faith and Christian Community in Mullingar Annabrook hotel on Monday evening 15th april and again in Athlone on monday evening 22nd April

    Is it time for the ordinary people of god to come together in faith, in the word, under the spriit and respond in love and action to the needs of our day … here in Ireland

  6. Darlene Starrs

    What a wonderful surprise to read your entry this morning Patrick!
    I am a very strong supporter of Small Christian Community, and I truly believe, it is really THE WAY….to renew personal and corporaate faith………..

    I will be praying for this meeting of yours and as I’m planning to return to Ireland for good, I have even greater interest in what you are pursuing.

  7. Mary O Vallely

    ‘Pope Francis gets his “oxygen” from the slums.’ This is Gospel in action.
    “Marginalization is the mother of our problems, and unfortunately she has many children,” he said.
    “Basically, what society is telling these people is, ‘We don’t want you to exist.’ The work we’re doing here is to try to tell them instead, ‘It’s good that you exist.’ ”
    That, he said, was the vision Jorge Mario Bergoglio had for the church in Buenos Aires, and it takes on flesh in places such as the Virgin of Caacupé parish. Now that he’s Francis, perhaps this “Pope of the Villa” can spread that vision well beyond the borders of Buenos Aires, helping it take flesh all over the world.


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