Reaching out to the poor

By  Andre-Joseph Cordeiro, Youth Speak News
  • November 20, 2008
I had just finished a late shift at work. I put on my sweater, coat and scarf and left the building. It was really cold — the kind of chill that you can feel wrap around the very edges of any exposed skin. I walked quickly, hoping to secure a warm seat on the bus. As I approached the bus stop, someone stopped me. “Mon grand, as-tu deux pieces t’as pourrais me donner?” I stared into the weathered face of the man who was asking me for money. He was not dressed for the weather. A baseball cap and a thin windbreaker were all the protection he had for the cold night.
Poverty. I sometimes wonder if I could handle living on the streets of Montreal. I usually come up with a big, fat “NO” when I think of my warm bed, my accessible electronics, bathrooms close by and a welcoming family to share my life with. It’s easy to change the channel when a World Vision fund-raising marathon comes on, or to mock it, saying 30 per cent of donations are re-funnelled back into the organization as administrative fees. It isn’t so easy when the face of poverty comes and says hello to you in person. It’s too easy to assuage my conscience by saying: “he’s going to spend my hard-earned dollars on booze, ‘pleasurable company’ or drugs.”

One of the first mandates of the Catholic Church in the “New World” was hospitals for the sick and shelters for the poor. Throughout church history we see charity exemplified through various events, and what an example we have through the saints. In 2006, to celebrate my parents’ silver jubilee, our family went on a pilgrimage to Italy and I had the privilege of visiting not only the Vatican but many Franciscan sites like San Giovanni del Rotondo (Padre Pio), Padua (St. Anthony) and Assisi where St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, lived. St. Francis called for simplicity of life, poverty and humility before God. In all his actions he sought to follow fully and literally the way of life demonstrated by Christ in the Gospels. And that’s a challenge I take to heart.

Whether I want to consider a Franciscan lifestyle of poverty is not the question here. What does matter is my choice to reach out to the poor around me — those who are poor materially, emotionally, spiritually. To live the Gospels in today’s secular world of instant gratification is a constant challenge. How do I manage my money? How do I restrain my shopping sprees? Making money as a young adult with no responsibilities or thought for the future is a heady combination. Helping others is a possibility but embracing poverty is still a little down the road for me. Like the great St. Augustine I too say, “Not yet!” The pressures of many homework assignments, heavy study loads, a part-time job and fun with friends overwhelms my mind. I know that I need to simplify my life and it is something to strive for even if it is only small changes and baby steps towards what I know in my heart to be the ideal way of living. Periodically I want to look at my life and think: I’m not where I want to be, but thank God, I’m not where I used to be. 

(Cordeiro, 18, is in his second year of media arts at John Abbott College in Montreal.)

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