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Monday, November 12, 2012

FACING UP TO THE TRUE FACE OF POVERTY


For many years I’ve been disturbed by the advertisement of the poor that the organization, “Food for the Poor” [FFP] promotes.  They have full page articles and glossy insert brochures in many Catholic newspapers.  Clergy and editors are given tours of needy areas from Jamaica to Haiti. Professional photos of teary-eyed/or smiling children and infomercial stories abound.  These are paid for stories, not journalistic efforts to describe the unjust situations of poverty.
 
“You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”From Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Populorum Progressio -’Development of the peoples’ (1967), paragraph 23

Luxury hotel gala events, lavish media buys, and priests employed to travel and preach for Sunday contributions, provide the capital.  These measures must cost thousands upon thousands of dollars—money that doesn’t go to the poor, and little done to help correct the structures that keep them poor.  This stratified form of charity that keeps donors from the doing has a downside that can lead to corruption of the mission.  The CEO of FFP, Robin Mahfood, makes over $300,000/yr, and the previous one, his brother, resigned in controversy. {see links* at end for history}

Food for the Poor (FFP) President Robin Mahfood at the Haiti boys orphanage, run by FFP in Port-au-Prince
 
From "Cross International" brochure
 
“Food for the Poor,” the 5th largest U.S. charity {as per Forbes magazine}, and a smaller spinoff, “Cross International”, have a method which has certainly done some good-- $1.1 billion of goods delivered this past year.  They both have various listings as responsible charities.  Yet this does not help resolve the gulf between rich and poor—the shameful gap criticized by Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel of the widow’s mite.  The criticism of “bandaid” approaches to poverty has a long history.
 
The metal "trumpets" into which one tossed coin contributions--the more coin, the more noise
 
Many believe that haves and have-nots must meet and work consistently with each other face to face for injustice to be solved.  This is difficult to do, but provides the way for our mutual salvation.  We cannot afford to sentimentalize our interconnectedness and the shared suffering it requires.  It demands often what Dorothy Day described as a harsh and dreadful love.

We have this, on a danger to solidarity with the poor, from the Encyclical of Pope John Paul II “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” para. 39  1986,
The "structures of sin" and the sins which they produce are likewise radically opposed to peace and development, for development, in the familiar expression Pope Paul's [VI] Encyclical, is "the new name for peace."

We commemorate those who’ve worked and lived with poor, among many--the four religious women murdered in El Salvador, Dec 2, 1980---victims, with their neighbors, of the "structures of sin."

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