Lesson 5: Preference for the Poor

Pope Francis and the poorI have been using long documents issued at the conferences of the Latin American bishops to illustrate Pope Francis’ thought. Both are heavily influenced by the theology of the spirit that primarily comes out of third world countries. I decided examining these was worthwhile, because the Pope has often spoken for many of us. Beyond that, there is benefit derived from examining the perspective of a local culture pretty much denigrated in the global economic system.

For instance, when the Pope and bishops speak of preference for the poor that should permeate all that we say and do, their reference is the large sprawling shanty slums that have grown around South American cities. For the most part, the Northern Hemisphere has not yet experienced this kind of widespread extreme on-public-display poverty. In fact, much of the panic about immigration stems from fear that this poverty is seeping northward.

The Gospel has always been defined as the proclamation of God’s good news for the poor. However, right from the beginning there have been variations of what is meant. Luke renders it literally as the economic poor. Matthew opens this up to include the poor in spirit.

The bishops identify the new poor as people given no place, no voice, and no personhood in the current global economic system. They see far more than we in the North do that this kind of poverty is not the result of laziness or freeloading. They have no hesitation identifying the cause as the failure of the present economic system to serve the needs of all people. The new poor are paying the price for the accumulation of huge benefits by the wealthy.

The bishops’ documents speak of the pain they feel seeing the suffering faces of these new poor. Many of us, myself included, cannot claim to have ever seen these people, because they are not part of our world. In fact, I am not even sure to whom the bishops refer in one of their long lists of the new poor: “migrants, victims of violence, displaced people and refugees, victims of human trafficking and kidnappings, the disappeared, people sick with HIV and endemic diseases, drug addicts, adults, boys and girls who are victims of prostitution, pornography and violence or of child labor, abused women, victims of exclusion and traffic for sexual exploitation, differently-abled people, large groups of unemployed men and women, those excluded by technological illiteracy, street people in large cities, the indigenous and Afro-Americans, landless peasants and miners”(#402 Aparecida Document).

When the Pope says our highest priority should be carrying the Gospel to these people, he means literally going to where they are. He speaks of being so close to them that we become friends able to speak their language. In other words, if we are to speak for them in the public conversation, we have to know who they really are and what they really need.

Of course, speaking for the poor also means acting on their behalf. Both the Pope and the bishops believe Christians should be championing the rights of all people to education, dignified work, and health care. They also think we have to protect them by promoting just regulation of the economy, finances, and world trade. And then to challenge us even further, they advocate first world forgiveness of foreign debt. Christians from the USA have their work cut out for them if the bishops are properly interpreting what the Gospel means in the 21st century.

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3 Enlightened Replies

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  1. John Myers says:

    As I read this lesson and digest the last sentence of the second paragraph, I am reminded that we in the US are not unlike the wealthy man in Mark 10. As a people, we like our wealth (of this world) more than we like the Spirit (God’s world) and make every excuse supporting how we can keep it and still be saved. We don’t want to hear or think about the poor suffering masses. Oh, we tweet out favorite hashtag support phrases. Think of the irony of that – using our wealthy toy to feign actual sympathy and support. We tell ourselves these ‘people’ have only themselves to blame in so many circumstances, people in our own back yard – the homeless, the mentally ill, the addicted.

    As we start the fourth paragraph, and identify the poor as having no personhood in our current system, I feel it is even worse. We live in a time when conventional political thought divides us as a people as never before, setting one group against another with everyone living in fear of the other. It is hard to embrace Christ’s teaching that we all have a seat at the table. It is human to want to believe we are better than another. As our current society evolves, I see a return to favor of embracing eugenics as a solution – the devaluation of life as we turn to a secular society.

    I am reading the Universal Christ by Richard Rohr, and in it he tells the story of someone who had a vision in which they were on a trip and passed through a train station. This person began to see the face Christ in every person they encountered, and the experience changed them forever. What a beautiful thought – that Christ is in all of us and we need to treat each other accordingly.

    • Fritz Foltz says:

      John, As you can see below, Paul has challenged me to follow through on this one. I’ll try to write about what I m thinking next week. Fritz

  2. Paul Wildman says:

    Indeed Fritz, Christians in the US do have their work cut out for them as they/you run many of the large global corporations which implement the economic system impoverishing the rest of the world and thus those you speak of in this missive. Fritz is this part of a series because to finish with leaving the reader dangling like in this lesson is somewhat unusual for you. There needs to be a call to action and a certain type of action based on your experience that of us your audience and your experience of others actions.

    What am I missing here please? Thx ciao paul

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