World Day of the Poor

World Day of the Poor 2023

The World Day of the Poor was established by Pope Francis in 2017 as a worthy way to prepare for the celebration of the Feast of our Lord Jesus Christ the King, who identified with people kept on the margins and is our exemplar in works of mercy. 

In his World Day of the Poor message given on the 13th of June, Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua, Patron of the Poor, Pope Francis offered the inspiration of Tobit, who, despite many trials, was a man of great compassion and showed practical concern to people in need. Tobit shared these words of wisdom with his son Tobias when he was about to go on a long journey, “Do not turn your face away from anyone poor,” (Tob 4:7.) Reflecting on our times, Pope Francis says we are living in times that are not particularly sensitive to the needs of people experiencing poverty. "The poor become a film clip that affects us for a moment, yet when we encounter them in flesh and blood on our streets, we are annoyed and look the other way."

At the same time, the pressures of consumerism are unparalleled and drive the compulsion to keep up with the latest, further excluding the world’s majority and degrading our Earthly home. Global changes to climate, land, oceans and biodiversity are alarming, and Earth cannot keep up with the unfettered economic growth and demand for resources that have characterized decades of development. People living in poverty bear the heaviest burden, yet Earth’s depletion leaves everyone increasingly vulnerable.

According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, up to forty per cent of Earth’s landmass is degraded and the number and duration of droughts has increased by twenty-nine per cent since 2000, giving rise to hunger, unemployment, disease, forced migration and unrest. “Without urgent action, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.” [1]

On top of this, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the final instalment of an eight-year-long report in March 2023 that found a high chance the world will reach 1.5 degrees global warming in the period 2021–2040. More so, “unless there are rapid, strong and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be impossible.[2]” Remembering the Paris Agreement adopted by nations set the goal in 2015 to limit temperature increases to well below 2 °C and preferably to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, to avoid worse case climate change scenarios.

We live in perilous times that necessitate time-critical and compassionate responses to global facts, whilst not turning a blind eye to greed, inequality and the needs of future generations.  

The United Arab Emirates will host the next Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, from 30th November until 12th December 2023. The scale of the climate crisis demands a commensurate response. In his new Apostolic Exhortation Laudate Deum, Pope Francis states unequivocally that a new process needs to be marked by three requirements, “that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all. That is not what has happened so far” (Laudate Deum, n 59.) Unmistakably, this involves moving beyond “the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage to produce substantial changes” (Laudate Deum, n 56.)

Whilst individual efforts alone are not enough to effect global transformation, structural change is influenced by the daily life choices and sustained commitment of us all. By listening deeply, reflecting on the international situation and aligning our thinking and actions in solidarity with those most impacted, we show mercy in our times. Bearing in mind our lives are intimately connected in relationship with God, one another and all creation, and that everything that exists is the gift of God’s creativity.

To that end, Pope Francis says, “Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way (Laudate Deum, n 68.) Returning to the inspiration of Tobit who remembered all his days that it was God who had been his good.[3] Tobit desired to share this witness with his son whom he urged to follow the right path in life by calling upon God in prayer, carrying out good works and practising mercy and justice.

[1] The State of the Global Climate in 2021 Report 18 May 2022 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
[2] 10 Big Findings from the 2023 IPCC Report on Climate Change, World Resources Institute March 2023
[3] Message of Pope Francis for the 2023 World Day of the Poor

Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon

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Comments (1)

  1. Wendy Flannery:
    Nov 16, 2023 at 12:26 PM

    Thanks Caroline for the great summary of the challenge facing us, and the highlights from Laudate Deum.


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