Editorial: Encounter the poor

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  • November 12, 2020

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is the fragility of our lives.

One day everything is fine, the next we find ourselves in a tailspin. Health-wise, we may recover with the miracles of modern science, but how long will it take to recover economically? How many businesses will have failed? How many people will find work again? How many families will have fallen into poverty? How many will be treading to food banks, which have already seen its usage double and even triple over the past six months?

More to the point, what will be our response — as individuals and as a society?

As we mark the fourth World Day of the Poor on Nov. 15, it’s a question that demands an answer and action.

Statistically, it has been easy to think of poverty as an issue the world was getting under control. In the past 30 years, more than a billion people have risen from the ranks of “extreme poverty,” those living on less than $1.90 a day. Yet, with the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank estimates that up to 150 million will be added to that grim category by 2021.

Here in Canada, the economic recovery from the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring was encouraging, but has slowed dramatically as a second wave spills over the country.

A Bank of Canada survey in October showed that a third of businesses expect their workforces to be below pre-pandemic levels for at least another year, or never recover. That will undoubtedly put a strain on our social safety net that is beyond uncomfortable.

Before the pandemic, there were already between 3.4 and 5.8 million people living under the definition of poverty in Canada, including 600,000 children. How many more will go without basic needs in the wake of the pandemic is anyone’s guess.

So, those are numbers, but as Pope Francis said in his World Day of the Poor message last year, set aside the statistics. “The poor are not statistics to cite when boasting of our works and projects. The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men, women and children who look for a friendly word. The poor save us because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”

Poverty is a multi-faceted problem that afflicts every region of the globe and no one pretends it is going away anytime soon. Nor is it a problem that can be ignored or abandoned as a task best left to governments. At stake is our duty as Christians — as humans — to ensure everyone has the basic essentials that make a dignified life.

“The Church certainly has no comprehensive solutions to propose,” the Pope writes in this year’s World Day of the Poor message, “but by the grace of Christ she can offer her witness and her gestures of charity.”

The Church is us, of course. In our own way, within our means and ability, we have the ability to make a difference.

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