Pope Francis and World Poverty

Pope Francis’ concern for the poor comes out as practical, intimate and sincere. We have seen pictures of him washing the feet of Aids patients in a hospice and chatting with ordinary people on a bus to work during his time as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Now as the Pope, he plans to continue with his practice of visiting the prisoners and the sick. As he gently spoke from the balcony of the room of tears after his election, one could easily say “there speaks a sincere man, whose authenticity can reach into the hearts of many.”

His life of simplicity illustrates that world poverty has a face and is not just a matter of statistics.  His various gestures since becoming Pope are an indication of his resolve to address world poverty by upholding dignity and Christ’s love in the lives of the poor, many of whom we often treat as second-class citizens.

In light of all this, his down to earth life is not a mere show, but a personal commitment to rid himself of the trappings that can easily hinder us from being deeply connected with the daily lives of millions. Though, as Pope, he is insulated from the many cruelties of poverty, his simple gestures are profound expressions of his solidarity with the life experiences of ordinary men and women in our world today. They serve as a constant reminder of his mission.

According to Leonardo Boff, a prominent founder of the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America, Francis isn’t a name. It’s a plan for a Church that is poor, simple, gospel-centered, and devoid of all power. It’s a Church that walks the way together with the least and last.

With the gap between the rich and poor ever becoming wider, Francis brings a fresh mandate for the Church, which is to place the poor as its foremost priority.  The numbers of people living below the poverty datum line are staggering. 3 billion people live on less than US$2/day. 1.4 billion People live on less than US$1.25/day – and such people in economic terms have become a definition of those who live under the conditions of “extreme global poverty.” An estimated 30,000 children die each day due to poverty -that is 18 children a minute; a child every 3 seconds.  2.6 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water. Every day, 4, 100 children die from severe diarrhea – as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene. Approximately 600 million children live in extreme poverty. Nearly 11,700 people die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Nearly two-thirds of these people are living in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the face of such a gloomy picture, Pope Francis is definitely the kind of leader for whom the world is craving. His leadership style awakens us to the fact that behind every statistics is a human being: a mother, father, sister or brother, a son and daughter.

With his position as the Pope, the leader of over 1.2 billion Catholics, Francis’ gestures are not merely an indication of his personal concern for the poor. They are also a challenge to many. No doubt, such gestures would definitely be mundane if they were coming from an ordinary person whose life is of no relevance or interest to many. In his extraordinary capacity, Francis demonstrates that the ordinary daily lives of millions living in poverty must never go unnoticed.

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ

Fr Gilbert Banda SJ is interested in Ignatian Spirituality.

g.banda@jesuitinstitute.org.za @gilbertbanda
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