Reminder for the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty (17 October)

October 17 is the International Day for the Eradication of Extreme Poverty designated by United Nations since 1993.  This year’s theme: “To think, decide and act together against extreme poverty” calls for the need to include people living in poverty as partners in building our understanding and knowledge of more sustainable forms of development.  While the UN urges local, national and international institutions to create genuine participatory mechanisms, with accountability and grievance mechanisms at all levels, it is also the time for us to prepare to enter the Year of the Poor in November 2014 – the third of the 9-Year Era (9 priorities) of New Evangelization, in preparation for the celebration of our 500 year of Catholic faith in the country.

We, in Church, are reminded to See: to be aware of the situation of poverty in our country and around us; to Judge: based on our conscience and culture, what is happening and whether it is in accordance to what God wants us, His children, to be; and to Act, based on faith-based and love-driven action, including careful planning with stakeholders.

Many of our Dioceses see how our landless farmers are unable to benefit from the land they are working although in many cases, the land is intended for them constitutionally and through CARP; we see how coconut farmers who are the poorest of farmers, need to struggle to benefit from the 71 billion pesos coconut levy that has been collected from their fellow coconut farmers through the years by the government but failed to give the benefits entitled to them, even if as many have become victims of recent natural disasters. We see families living in the streets, children working and begging instead of going to schools, we see hunger in the faces of children, youth, senior citizens.  Women and children being trafficked into prostitution and slave labor conditions due to lack of income for basic needs.  12.1M Filipinos are jobless, and 18M are hungry poor (SWS January 2014).

“Do Justice, Love Kindness” (Micah 6:8) – the Year of the Poor campaign slogan – challenges us to remember Jesus, not to see poverty as just numbers or statistics, but see as Jesus sees every human face, especially our brothers and sister suffering from poverty in the forms of oppression, ignorance and injustices.

Many of us see the injustice, ask what and who are behind it, and are already acting on it.  Many are accompanying children and families through feeding programs and scholarships, through livelihood projects and lobbying for laws that reduce corruption and make the government budget and expenditure more transparent.

As pastors, we called to lead in seeing the poor and marginalized, NOT as poor victims, but as children made in God’s image, who have equal dignity and God’s love and talents.  We believe the poor have the power to feed themselves, to contribute to the society, once they realize this in their self-awareness and are given proper opportunities.  If we truly believe in their strength, we can help counter the “common image” (that the poor have nothing to contribute) and start empowering them to believe in their own inner strength, capacity.  If we believe that they are our partners in eradicating poverty, we will also provide equitable opportunities without any bias.

However, this kind of empowerment will not be effective if we do not play our part, for example, in giving up our excesses, and be prophetic enough to inform/ educate others also on how to see the Poor as Jesus does.  We cannot just provide immediate needs of the poor without mobilizing those who “have” to give up a bit of their comfort so that others can get what is inherently theirs.  As all love-based actions, this requires sacrifice that “hurts” but this makes us truly Christians.

At the social dimension, as we realize that extreme poverty is caused by deeper injustice in structures of society and gross inequality of power and influence, we see the need to reduce poverty through concrete action that systematically address the concerns and improve lives of the Poor, as well as the structures that cause them.

We appeal to you to remind in all parishes and masses, about Extreme Poverty, which the United Nations saw it serious enough to designate a day for its eradication; and encourage all to share time, talents and treasure, in the form of love and opportunities.  Let us challenge them to go deeper into the why and what we can do to fight poverty.

In preparation for the Year of the Poor in the beginning of advent, let us also remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”  Let us pray for the eradication of extreme poverty and exercise our prophetic role: be bold enough to fight injustice and challenge our brothers and sisters to do the same.

What will we do for the least of these brothers, for Jesus, on the Day for Eradication of Extreme Poverty, and for the Year of the Poor?

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