Roman Catholic Archbishop Jason Gordon has called on citizens to stretch a helping hand to at least one person in need, saying the poor are not objects or statistics.
“Find someone you know, reach out to one poor person. Not just to give money, but stop, speak, ask questions,” Gordon said.“One thing the poor do not have an opportunity to do is to tell their story with dignity.”
He made the comments on Saturday at the opening of Justice, Peace, and Community week hosted by the Archdiocese of Port of Spain and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ). The ceremony was aired on Trinity TV.
According to the Vatican calendar, this year World Day of the Poor is on November 15 (the last Sunday before the solemnity of Christ the King). The 2020 theme is Stretch forth your hands to the poor.
Gordon said, “Stretching forth our hands to the poor is stretching forth the hands of love, the hands of mercy, the hands that will help.”
“Stretching forth the hands will demonstrate our own commitment. We recognise, as Pope Francis says, that we are brothers and sisters. By stretching forth our hands, we join in common humanity.”
For the pope and the church, World Day of the Poor represents a genuine form of new evangelisation. It also brings communities to consciousness, Gordon said.
“The poor is a person with a name, a style, a way of being. The poor are not objects. They are subjects. They are the image of God himself, here in the land of TT,” Gordon said.
“When we meet and encounter the poor, it asks about our indifference and how we are responding to the poor. So often, we don’t build social relations with those who are poor and marginalised.”
The archbishop said the latest research figures show that 16.7 per cent of people live in regular poverty in Trinidad, and 1.2 per cent in indigent poverty. He said the figures represent “persistent poverty” that has not moved for more than a generation.
“Tobago, likewise, has a similar number. When we recognise the kind of money we have had and the kind of budgets we have had, we still have huge pockets of poverty that exists,” Gordon said.
“We as a nation should hide our heads because, with the kinds of wealth we had, we should have everyone out of persistent poverty and move people into a way of living that they have a real sense of opportunity.”
Gordon said poverty does not only relate to the lack of money. It also relates to the lack of participation and lack of dignity. It means some children do not have the same opportunity for education as other children.
Although he said TT needs to become a nation that cares, Gordon said it is also an incredibly generous one.
“In the midst of the pandemic, we fed 70,000-plus people in a three-month period. People came out of the woodwork and gave food to all of our centres.
“People gave in bulk. They gave their time, talent and treasures. We rose to the occasion and stretched out our hands to the poor. That continues.”
As part of the Catholic identity, people stretch out their hands to the poor, he said.
“The poor are the face of God. They call us to conversion and in calling us, we have from the poor the biggest opportunity in recognising how we live.” He shared the story of a poor man he had a conversation with one day.
“The poor give us gifts that we do not even understand. Let us remember that we receive when we encounter the poor,” he said.
Also speaking at the event were CCSJ chair Leela Ramdeen, president of the St Vincent de Paul Society Angelique Taylor, and Angelo Kurbanali of the Catholic Youth Commission.
Like the archbishop, Ramdeen quoted extensively from Pope Francis to support her views. She also mentioned from the late calypsonian Winston “Shadow” Bailey’s song Poverty is Hell.
“Our faith calls us to preserve the dignity of each person,” Ramdeen said. “The number of poor people in TT is growing daily, and the pandemic has led to an increase in the number of people and families living below the poverty line.”
Citizens need the willpower to effect change so that everyone can receive his or her due, she said.