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Option for The Poor, Nr. 26 of the 18 GC Statement

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A few years ago, l was invited to direct a two-day retreat with a charismatic group at one of the suburbs of Sevilla. It is a residential area that can be described as one of the richest parts of the city. After Mass on Sunday to mark the end of the retreat, an elderly lady catches up with me and said: Father, I would like to continue the chat l had earlier on with you. Then came the inevitable questions: where do you live? where is your parish? Su Eminencia, l said, Virgen del Carmen. She exclaimed, the expression on her face tells it all: oh you live in a dangerous suburb. That was after taking me through the history of the district. Su Eminencia, according to the latest EU index on poverty, is among the seven poorest districts in the European Union, and one of the two in the city of Sevilla.

Later, on my way back home, pondering about my chat with the lady, l asked myself the question: Would Jesus have preferred to live in Sevilla if He should come there now? The answer was obvious to me. Jesus primarily will opt for Su Eminencia again, where majority of the residents are migrants from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and a large number of gypsy families. The dangerous and poor barrio according to the lady will be the preferred place for Jesus. I am sure Jesus will mount a big kitchen where he will feed on a daily basis the hungry as we are doing now at CASA DE TODOS in the parish. After nourishing them with the Word of God, as He did on the foot of the mountain in Galilee where he fed the thousands who were without food, with a few loaves of bread and just a handful of fish.

The marginalized by the world seems to be invisible to the world, nobody talks about them, and neither do they speak about themselves. They cannot denounce their situation because they are paperless, with no resident permits. They work clandestinely and leave in inhuman conditions, in apartments that most times do not have running water. Jesus, for sure, will still opt for the same programme which is the programme of all the prophets of all time, a mission to those favored by God, as described in Luke 4:16-21 which says that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; and to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

The 18th General chapter document of our congregation, number 26 states categorically that “The renewal that we seek on a personal and communitarian level and as a Society of the Divine Word will only take place as we are rooted in Jesus and in his primary option, which is the common ground for everything we do.” It is explicitly clear that our vocation is call for the option for the poor. Primarily, therefore the “option for the poor” must not be seen only as an outward attitude or documental slogan of the society. Rather it must be the core underlining inner attitude of our spiritual life as we opt to be the followers of Christ to live his mission which is our mission. A missionary of the new millennium must be fired by the desire to be Christ like in his fundamental option of life and in line with the tradition of the church, love for the poor.

Our spirituality, therefore, must be a spirituality of the Beatitudes, poverty of spirit, of hunger and thirst for justice, meekness of heart, merciful and peace makers, (Mt 1,1-12). For as the adage goes, “you cannot give what you do not have”. Logically speaking we can only give what we have. “Those who are oppressed by poverty, excluded from our society must be the subject of our preferential love” (Catechism of the Church, no. 2444). That is the only way we can be relevant today as missionaries. But this must be done with the attitudes of the Good Samaritan, which are intelligence, compassion and commitment so as not to fall into the old ruse of paternalistic welfare. That is the only way the kingdom desire by God preached by Jesus can be made a reality.

In his concluding remarks in his article entitled “To be a Christian in Europe: “Possibilities of condition” (a quarterly booklet called Cuaderno CJ no. 218) Victor Codina said, “the church must open its door to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized, those for whom the church was founded… the church must purifies itself from the past by asking for forgiveness for its sins… for abandoning its core principles for which it was founded by Jesus Christ of Nazareth”.

The call by Pope Francis, in his Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Guadium to build a poor church for the poor, a church that is reaching out in service, a church that cares for the earth, and announces to all the joy of the Gospel will remain an utopia if we do not make the option for the poor the engine that drives us as missionary of the Divine Word.

Fr. Marcel Kakrabah-Quarshie, SVD


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