October 17, 2017: A Day to Heed the United Nation’s Call…
- To eradicate poverty everywhere
- To become an inclusive society
What will it take to meet this prophetic call?
A Commemoration of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty: October 17, 2017
Thirty years ago the United Nations set October 17 as a day to raise awareness of and direct our energies towards the eradication of poverty throughout the globe. Carved in a commemorative stone is the conviction,
“Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights are respected is our solemn duty.”
These are the words of Fr. Joseph Wresinski. His life experience of poverty, hope and transformation may be an inspiration to all. Joseph was born in 1917 to immigrant parents in an internment camp outside Paris. His sister died in that camp of malnutrition, and his mother suffered humiliation from her dependence on donations. The intensity of this family’s experience of chronic poverty and social exclusion became a driving force in his life as a priest for all people. His chosen priestly residence was with the poor in a camp for the homeless. His efforts to build relationships with all people finally led him to gather together 100,000 people of all social backgrounds at the Human Rights and Liberty Trocadero Plaza in Paris, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, to honor the victims of extreme poverty, violence and hunger.
Out of this ability to bring people together, Fr. Wresinski started the movement “ATD Fourth World “(All Together in Dignity). As an international movement that is active in 34 countries it remains a force in the determined effort to defeat poverty. In solidarity and collaboration with the most excluded families around the world, ATD designs and plans its projects with the participation of people living in persistent poverty. It has been demonstrated that the most disadvantaged people can be empowered to free themselves from the dependence and indignity of poverty when their courage and capacity for action are recognized, and when everyone takes responsibility for overcoming the prejudice and discrimination that continue to exclude people living in poverty.
The United Nations set the theme for this year’s commemoration appropriately as, “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A Path Toward Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.” It has been demonstrated that the poverty of some affects whole communities and leads to the destabilizing of civic structures. We are witnesses to the instability of our age, to a depersonalized world overrun with war, terrorism, human exploitation, and a self-centered will to power.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal to end all poverty everywhere by 2030 seems too ambitious to many, but according to the Director-General of UNESCO it is achievable. Irina Bokova claims that success rests on political determination driven by solid knowledge about the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of poverty.
If we look at the magnitude of world and local poverty from a merely statistical reference we learn that 2.4 billion people survive on less than $2.00 a day; 1.6 billion people live in poverty; one half of the refugee population are children.
The poor have a voice. What do we hear them say about the situations that make poverty a systemic trap for them:
“I am not able to find work with my limited skills.
How will I feed my children?
I cannot support my children on low wages I make in 2 jobs
I am forced to choose between food and medicine in my senior years.
I am undocumented and am exploited by my employer.
I am opiad addicted and feel trapped.
My parents may be deported. Who will care for me?
I may be deported. Where do I belong?
The soup kitchen lost its grant. How will I eat?
We have lost everything in hurricanes, floods, etc.
I am hungry and no one feeds me, I want to learn and no one teaches me.
I don’t want bombs; I need bread.”
On the international level, children are the innocent victims of war and violence, famine and displacement. The hostilities in Syria, Yemen and Palestine lead us to wonder how children can live normal loving lives when fear is their emotional response to life. It is heart wrenching to know that children are dying each day of starvation, as I dump food in the garbage.
It is heartening to know that movements of solidarity and care are finding ways to change things. One movement close to my heart is Bread For The World. Its primary purpose is to end hunger everywhere. Although not political in intent, BFW is currently pushing Congress to respond to the spreading famine in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. The famine and displacements are reaching proportions that haven’t been seen since World War II. BFW Churches mobilize people to write letters to Congress and to visit their legislators to effect changes in policy.
Albert Nolan in his book “Hope in An Age of Despair,” 2010, reframes our option for the poor as an option for the cause of the poor. He writes, “Beyond our ability to be moved by the pain of the poor, as good as that is, we are to take sides against the cause of the rich; to choose to eliminate unjust economic structures that discriminate against the poor, but the poor themselves have to take up their own cause.”
Taking on the call to be in solidarity with the poor is a task and grace given to us by Jesus. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sakes He became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8: 9).
As our own legislators are consumed with measures that will remove health care and safety nets for many, while Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused loss of life, destruction of homes, citizens in the entertainment and media industries hosted the telethon Hand-in-Hand, and raised millions of relief funds. The Global Citizens Festival, held in September in New York, was a gathering of 60,000 people of all ages, races and creeds calling for political and social change, with special efforts to defeat AIDS and poverty. As I watched these events on TV and saw faces radiating the joy of life, I wondered if we are witnessing a renaissance of goodness, a new age of spirit and unity!
Our prophetic Pope Francis tells us in his Encyclical “Laudato Si” “that the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together…affecting the most vulnerable people on the planet…the gravest effects are suffered by the poorest.”
As we commemorate this International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, you may wish to Google some websites for the many heartening stories of solidarity. One story that touched me was that of the Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC). It began 15 years ago when parents and families walked in the rain to the juvenile courthouse, stood and gave voice to over 2,000 voiceless families to abolish the school to prison pipeline, thus reforming the juvenile justice system.
Finally, as we join with other alliances to fight poverty, secure inclusion and dignity for all, what would we write on our commemorative stone? Have we already done so in our Chapter mandates?