Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
February 1, 1999
Celebrate jubilee by solidarity with world's poor
For some 25 years we have worked with people in the Third World. On a few occasions we have had the privilege to meet some of our partners face to face. And so we have walked through the barrios of Lima and Managua, and been invited into the homes of the very poor and shared their meals of rice and beans.
We've seen the houses of cardboard, black plastic, woven mats of palm leaves, found material and corrugated tin - places with dirt floors, leaky roofs and walls through which the wind blew in El Salvador, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
We've seen women get up at 5 a.m. to sweep the floor and the yard, we've seen them with baskets on their heads and a baby on their back, pushing or pulling a cart with children in tow.
We've seen men carrying big loads or waiting at the bus before sun up to go to the city to look for work. These people are not poor or homeless for lack of ambition or ingenuity.
I've never been in the favellas of Brazil, but one of the partners of St. Joseph's Save the Children is an organization called Workers Without Roofs, operating out of Maceio where 700,000 people live in makeshift shanty towns on occupied land.
In Sao Paulo, further south, there are as many as two million or more internal refugees who have been driven off their land, not counting the quarter million who sleep on the street, under bridges and in sewage pipes.
And so it is in every major city in Latin America, but also in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. According to a recent study, 30 million people in the United States are classified as "hungry" and the number of homeless in the city of New York has been called a public scandal.
This poverty is not the consequence of a scarcity of human or material resources, but the result of a system of global oversupply and the accumulation of private wealth in the hands of the few. In the South, the North and the East, a privileged social minority has grown excessively rich at the expense of the vast majority.
This new international financial order feeds on human poverty and the degradation of the natural environment.
In the sixties a great number of white missionaries flocked to Latin America to preach the Gospel to the heathen and the poor to prevent the spread of communism. It was as if God were one of our many possessions that we were prepared to share with the afflicted, along with our foreign aid handouts.
I've had long conversations with some of these men who told me they discovered that God was already there, living among the homeless, excluded and marginalized people. They learned that these were God's people in exile, wandering through the vast urban deserts, or enslaved in "Egypt" working to enrich the oligarchic and multinational Pharaohs.
In the base Christian communities the people would gather to find hope and courage in biblical stories which showed that God does not abandon his people but lives with them in solidarity: "Go and tell my servant David that he is not to build a temple of cedar for me to live in. From the time I rescued you out of Egypt, I travelled with you and lived in a tent" (2 Samuel 7:3-8).
The prophet Ezekiel had a dream, he saw a sacred cloud, a sign of God's presence, rising from the Temple of Jerusalem, and leaving the city for the mountain where the exiles were gathered. And the Lord said, "I will be present with them in the lands where they have gone" (Ezekiel 11:16).
These messages and the story of Exodus have given the roofless people the consolation that although humanity has abandoned them, the God of justice lives among them, roofless, without a stone upon which to rest his head.
The churches of the West have tried hard to contain God in their golden tabernacles and ornate temples. But if we want to find out more about this God "of ours" in our reorganized parishes and restructured dioceses, then it might be wise to seek him among the street people, the throw-aways of this world, whose lives have been torn apart by unjust structures and gross indifference.
It is among the poor where we can truly celebrate the jubilee 2000.
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