By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, (http://rcsocialjusticett.org) & Director, CREDI
“Unless those who call themselves Christians live to serve, their lives serve no good purpose” (Pope Francis).
On September 5, the world will observe the International Day of Charity. The day was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the death of St Teresa of Kolkata. The UN urges us “to commemorate the Day in an appropriate manner, by encouraging charity, including through education and public awareness-raising activities” as “charity contributes to the promotion of dialogue, solidarity and mutual understanding among people”.
If we are to do as Pope Francis said in his 2014 Lenten message and “bear witness to the Gospel message to those who live in material, moral and spiritual poverty”, we must do more than just give to the poor those things that we no longer want, or dole out a few dollars to those who beg on our streets.
The Holy Father makes his position clear when he said: “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt”. In demonstrating that we love God and our neighbour, we are required to do more than just pray for those in need as “a prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother — the poor, the sick, those in need of help, a brother in difficulty — is a sterile and incomplete prayer” (Pope Francis).
Archbishop Harris’ Pastoral Letter urges us to practise hospitality. As imitators of Christ and as an evangelising community, we must have a generous heart; we must combat what the Holy Father calls the globalisation of indifference to the needs of our neighbour: “in imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it…We need Christians who do not allow themselves to be overcome by weariness or discouraged by adversity, but instead are available, open and ready to serve” (Pope Francis).
In practising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, let us not forget the Holy Father’s words that “the hungry asks us for dignity, not for charity…Being Christian entails promoting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, fighting for it, living for it”. We must, therefore, walk with the two feet of Christian service – works of mercy and works of social action: meeting immediate need as well as addressing the root causes of problems e.g. in relation to the provision of basic amenities.
Deep within our consciences, our Lord stirs us to recognise that throwing crumbs from our tables to those in need will not allow Lazarus to be truly welcomed to sit at the table of the rich man. God has given the world sufficient resources to allow all His children to flourish. However, as the saying goes, there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed. Today the evils of greed, corruption, selfishness, individualism, and moral relativism act as obstacles to the promotion of equity/ equality/justice/peace/the common good.
By promoting a culture of encounter, we embrace the fact that “charity is not merely about helping others, but is a dimension that permeates the whole of life and breaks down all those barriers of individualism which prevent us from encountering one another. Charity is the inner life of the Church and is manifested in ecclesial communion…When you give of your time, your talents and your resources to the many people who struggle and who live on the margins, you make a difference. It is a difference that is so desperately needed, and one for which you will be richly rewarded by the Lord” (Pope Francis).
In T&T there are many who live their faith through selfless service. But we can and must do more to give others a place at the table of life. Inter alia, we must ask why the poor are poor, and champion their cause – involving them in the process “so that they can become active agents of their own development” (Pope Francis).
One of the initiatives that the CCSJ is planning, is to work with relevant Government Ministries to organise ‘clinics’ around the country to raise awareness of the various services/benefits that are available and how one can access these. You can organise similar initiatives in your own parishes. How about including relevant information in your parish newsletters? And if you need assistance in advocacy work, please contact us on 622-6680.
Let us work together to be witnesses of mercy, to build a better T&T/world.