The world is suffering more now, because we generally make less sacrifice for others and our LOCAL community
I was recently advised of a Fordham University (USA) report on world poverty, discrimination against women, religious persecution and their link to poverty (thank you, JPIC office Canada). https://catholicnews.com/fordham-report-finds-poverty-growing-globally-reversing-recent-gains/
It is short and factual: but it is sobering; featuring a picture of Kenyan children looking for water to carry home. 26.2% of the world population suffers basic poverty. The poverty “score” is based on seven items presented to the U.N. by Pope Francis in 2015; material needs: water, food, housing, employment; and spiritual needs: education, religious freedom, civil rights.
What struck me most, however, was that 58% of the people in poverty come from countries where religious persecution is greatest. And Christianity is the most widely persecuted.
What does this mean or imply? Before I answer that, let us also add another poverty which is affecting the materially well off countries and many developing nations like Kenya: mental depression & suicide among young people, which makes the pain of poverty even greater.
Both the issue of basic poverty and mental poverty are linked, by my observation, to religious ignorance, or religious suppression. In materially poor countries, the mental depression is usually linked to a lack of employment and food survival issues killing hope for the future.
What we need is a revival of true Christian values which originally built up our strong economic countries: just reaching 61 years of age myself, I clearly remember that the focus of our parents and grandparents was on community well-being as much as our family well-being.
Being concerned for our neighbours and participating in local community activities was the lived reality of the Christian life. We criticise the Church, today, because most people only see the rules of the Church: but that is only a very small part of our Christian life. The majority of people in society (except may be poor countries), fail to see the social justice agenda of the Christian church expressed in education, medical and social care for millions of people.
In poorer countries where the Christian Church has been persecuted, poverty is increasing. In the wealthier countries where the Christian Church has been abandoned, mental health and suicide are increasing. We celebrate Christ as King, because his example of suffering and death for the Community taught us how to build happy Communities on earth =part of Heaven. The “secrets” that Christ taught us are: self-sacrifice, sharing and forgiveness.
When I visited Mathare Slums last week, a lovely older lady told me her last-born son lives with her in the small 2.5m x 3m room they call home. He’s finishing school (20 years). He often takes drugs and becomes violent, especially when she says there’s no food in the house. He will take two knives and shout: “you are not leaving this house: we should die, both of us to end the pain.” She said, “I know he loves me, but he has no hope for tomorrow.”
In such poverty, it is difficult for people to celebrate Christ as their King. Indeed, as St Eugene de Mazenod told us, “help them first of all to be human, then Christians and, finally, Saints.” Those of us who have what we need, can only evangelise them if we assist with basic necessities and opportunities that allow them to be truly human =meaningful work & food.
For the youth in richer countries, religion is no longer a central part of the culture and this is why so many youth are having mental challenges: there’s no ‘story’ to explain their origin, purpose and destination. They are struggling for meaning in their lives: materialism and pleasure become boring and, like a drug addict, they require more and more to “feel good”.
Religion needs to be inculcated in our early years as a discipline so that, later, as we reject what our parents taught us and explore “worldly pleasures”, we have something to come back to when we are feeling lost and looking for deeper meaning in life. Ritual and discipline rescue us from despair/ depression in hard times, and provide us with the joy of gratitude in good times.
That’s why it’s so sad to hear parents saying, “they can choose themselves.” It would be like cancelling mathematics completely for a child’s education, because it’s “hard”.
In the beginning, God may be something external to us, someone we HAVE TO obey, rather than someone we truly love. But, hopefully, over time and with the right mentors and perseverance, we will come to celebrate Christ the King as someone we WANT TO obey, because Christ will have become our friend.
Today we express our gratitude to God because, as St Paul reminds us:
… he has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves, and in him, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
Mistakes around drugs, sex, material things, and excluding others, do not have to punish us forever. We are gently invited, today, to acknowledge our mistakes, and express our gratitude to God, not in songs but, by our words and actions to do good for others.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI