Encountering God in the Poor

Recently I have been reflecting on a book, Jesuit “martyrs”: Torches of light and hope, which presents Jesuits who were deeply rooted in a ministry that promotes faith, justice and reconciliation in an Ignatian way among the poor. It briefly narrates the stories of 57 contemporary Jesuits assassinated in the course of struggling for a reconciled world. Each in their way found a God who suffers daily among us.

Perhaps there is a lesson for us in this. At least a set of questions. What is my experience of the plight of the poor? Could it be to advocate for the poor? Could it be a renewed commitment to eradicating poverty within and outside the church? Who am I invited to accompany? Echoing Pope Francis’ words – what does it mean for the church today, in an unequal society, to smell of the sheep?

In South Africa solidarity with the poor could mean providing formation for youth in townships, protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, accompanying women and strengthening their leadership, providing alternatives to racial injustice, challenging unjust frameworks and legal restrictions, providing spiritual and financial resources to end poverty, promoting education, and protecting the environment. To be in solidarity with the poor requires us to change our way of living.

How can we overcome the tragedy of an unequal society full of greed? The poor are losing hope. The call is to understand poverty in all its complexity and make informed and collective decisions. The 57 martyrs show us how to live with the poor in hope, noting how they overcome so many crises. We are called to look at reality with new hope, living alongside the poor.

When we connect with the poor, when we let them change us, we will change too. As Jesuit Father Gregory Boyle, the founder-director of Homeboys Industries California said, “You go to the margins, not to make a difference, because then that’s about you. You go to the margins so that the folks at the margins make you different.”

We tend to donate, to ‘save’ lives, to come up with ‘solutions’. But maybe it is about accompanying and infusing hope, being willing to stand with the poor.

Service means work or action – much more than just words. We need to discern how to respond to the ills of the world. How can we encounter people more meaningfully? Our ministry is to work and walk alongside the poor. How we hear the voices of those suffering and discern a future filled with hope, should not just be doing but also being: it is about doing our part, not only for the poor but also with the poor.

The new Pastoral Plan for the Church in Southern Africa – with its focus on justice, reconciliation, healing and environment – is a new opportunity for Catholics to connect with the poor beyond abstract ideas and principles. Will our words be translated into action? How can I, where I live my daily life, accompany those on the margins?

Sr Katleho Khang SNJM

Sr Katleho Khang, is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. She graduated from University of Lesotho with a Diploma in Mass Communication in 2009, double major B.A. in Theatre & Film and Conflict Resolution Studies, from University of Winnipeg, Canada in 2014, and trained in Coaching and Mediation Skills at Menno Simmons College, Winnipeg, Canada. Sr. Katleho also completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Media Management at the Sol Plaatje Media Leadership Institute at Rhodes University in 2015. Katleho has a passion for social justice and women issues. She has attended summits at the United Nations in New York on Sustainable Development 13 in 2004, and on Women Status in 2017. She worked in the NGO sector and has served as a Liaison officer on her religious order's Justice and Peace Network. She also worked for the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference as a Communication officer. In her spare time, Sr. Katleho enjoys reading, watching documentaries and photography.

k.khang@jesuitinstitute.org.za
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