Who are the poor?

By Lucas Holt | November 19, 2023

Sunday, Nov. 19, will mark the seventh World Day of the Poor, founded by Pope Francis in 2017. This year’s theme is: “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” (Tb 4:7).

In reflecting on this theme, it is worth asking: who are “the poor?” We must also ask: what qualifies as being poor? Finally, we must establish what qualifies as being poor and the best way to care for the poor.

The starting point is found in the Holy Father’s message for the World Day of the Poor: “The poor are persons; they have faces, stories, hearts and souls,” he wrote. “They are our brothers and sisters, with good points and bad, like all of us, and it is important to enter into a personal relationship with each of them.”

Lucas Holt

Perhaps a more fitting phrase to use, instead of “the poor,” is “a person who is poor.” When recognizing the personhood of someone, we see their intrinsic value and dignity: a person made in the image and likeness of God.

When we think of a person who is poor, we might think of the homeless person on one of our sidewalks. While they are certainly materially poor, poverty is more than a lack of material goods.

Pope Francis notes that “the poor” are many and varied.

In addition to those who need basic necessities such as food, clothing, water, shelter, there are also those who suffer from a disability and cannot work; those who are in ill health who cannot clothe themselves or feed themselves; widows; orphans; those who are underemployed; and those who are suffering from the impact of war.

Pope Francis then goes on to mention new forms of poverty arising in our culture: “I cannot fail to mention, in particular, an increasingly evident form of poverty that affects young people. How much frustration and how many suicides are being caused by the illusions created by a culture that leads young people to think that they are “losers” and “good for nothing.” Indeed, poverty can be a lack of purpose and meaning.

How do we care for those experiencing these forms of poverty? It must begin with personal relationships.

As Pope Francis said of the poor, “Let us never forget that we are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them” (Evangelii Gaudium, 198).

I am proud to work for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, which is involved in this kind of work. Whether it is mental health counseling, financial health counseling, immigration services, helping a refugee family find housing or helping a married couple adopt a child, our mission is to see the face of Christ in all.

We can be the hands and feet of Christ to those who come to us, but we also get to experience the love of God in the person who is poor, for God is present in the poor in a special way. The poor are persons. Their needs may be physical, material or spiritual. Whatever the need, let us not turn our faces away from them.

Holt is Living Justice Advocate for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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