Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The shocking truth of this photo is that solidarity with the poor is a risky thing.  31 years ago, on 24 March, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was gunned down while celebrating Mass because he spoke against the junta and in favor of the oppressed poor.  Here are his last words, preached before the gunshot that martyred him:

May this body [of the Lord in the Eucharist] immolated and this blood sacrificed for humans nourish us also, so that we may give our body and our blood to suffering and to pain--like Christ, not for self, but to bring about justice and peace for our people.

It is difficult to stand with and for the poor in a way that not only desires to alleviate suffering but also to prevent it by advocating systemic reform.  Dom Helder Camera of Recife, Brazil put it well:  "Why is it that when I reach out to the poor I am called a saint, but when I ask, 'Why are there poor people?' I am called a communist?"

The Chinese proverb is only partially true:  Give a man a fish and you feed him today; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.  The man must still be given (have or access to) a rod and reel and bait...

Can we end poverty and suffering?  Probably not--not everyone who is "poor" has the desire to change.  But the vast majority of the world's poor have it imposed on them by circumstances of geography, politics and macro-economics.  And they remain poor because too many of our nations' economic policies do not recognize them as "brothers and sisters we haven't yet met." 

We are blessed to be born and living in a nation that is economically prosperous and free.  What of the rest of the world's people who were not so blessed--do we have any obligations to them?

These are hard questions that do not have easy or simplistic answers.  But I think we have at least the obligation to ask them, and to try to find honest, faith-filled responses to the cry of the poor. 

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