by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
Beginning on July 2nd this column has taken up parts of Pope Francis’s extensive Laudato Si’ Action Platform, announced on the 5th anniversary of that historical encyclical. The Holy Father’s vision for this lengthy “praxis” calls attention to The Cry of the Earth, The Cry of the Poor, Ecological Economics, Adoption of Simple Life Styles, Ecological Education, Ecological Spirituality and Emphasis on Community Involvement and Participatory Action.
The Cry of the Poor seemed an appropriate starting place for us in taking up this plan. It has been the constant theme, one could say the overriding theme, of the Francis Papacy. He has returned again and again in myriad ways to this topic, generally under the rubric of the Church’s stated “Preferential Option for the Poor”. In this, the pope has followed the consistent message of Catholic Social Teaching over the past 119 years: that every human person has a God-given dignity and any threat to that dignity must be condemned and opposed.
[Note: Stating that “every person has a God-given dignity” in no way mitigates the insistence that Black Lives Matter. Racism is one of the threats to human dignity explicitly condemned by Catholic Social Teaching.]
However faulty the Catholic Church has been at every level in living out the principle of a preferential option for the poor it stands as a pillar of our social teaching.
We conclude this first goal of Pope Francis’s plan with a quick recall of the three previous examples of the cries of the poor dealt with here in the last few weeks—and a mention of several others, which sound the same cries.
On July 2nd in addition to a quick introduction to the Laudato Si’ Platform, the column reflected on the actual condition of poor people in our world—making the point that they are not statistics but real people—children, women and men, our sisters and brothers beloved of God.
The following week it was the Cry of the Poor arising from the numberless refugees who roam the planet seeking a safe place to live and who are too often rejected by countries (like the United States) simply because of the color of their skin, their languages or cultures.
Last week it was the reality of so-called “street people,” the homeless, the beggars, who plead for help to survive in our American cities, who sound the Cry of the Poor.
Obviously, so many other groups of impoverished and oppressed sisters and brothers in this world also cry out, challenging us and moving our consciences. In what might be called Pope Francis’s inaugural message to the world, “The Joy of the Gospel,” written in the first year of his papacy, the pope names groups of poor people, some of whom represent “new poverties” peculiar to our times: the addicted, indigenous peoples, the elderly, migrants, victims of trafficking, often incarcerated in rings of prostitution, undocumented workers, the unborn – the list is long. Each of these situations lends itself to the kind of Laudato Si’ reflection being called for by Pope Francis.
By way of conclusion to this little series on the Cry of the Poor, the Pope assures us that he has no intention of laying guilt trips on us who are not poor. He always speaks as a pastor. However, he is strong and direct in calling us not to ignore these cries. His words best express this pastoral love and concern for the poor and for all of us who live in a world filled with such poverties, “If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak to them with affection and with the best of intentions.”
In this Francis makes his own the words of St. Oscar Romero: “It is the poor who tell us what the world is… The reality of the poor serves as the lens by which Christians should ponder their role in the world.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.