Recap & Response: Pope Francis’ Charge to End Poverty

On September 23, 2016, CAPP-USA and Fordham University co-sponsored a conference called “Pope Francis’ Call for Escaping Poverty: Practical Examples and New Proposals.” The conference examined the definition and measurement of poverty and proposed specific, practical efforts which operationalize Pope Francis’ insistence that people “be dignified agents of their own destiny.” What follows is the latest in a series of posts authored by graduate students in Fordham University’s International Political Economy & Development Program that offer a summary and response to a topic discussed at the conference.

His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick.

At the recent CAPP-USA / Fordham conference, His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick took the time to elaborate on comments made by Pope Francis in his 2015 address to the United Nations about social justice, armed conflict, escaping poverty, and environmental abuse. In his speech, Pope Francis said the following:

“Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold.”

Cardinal McCarrick opened his discussion of Pope Francis’ quote by telling a story:

At the last papal conclave, when it became apparent that then Cardinal Bergoglio was going to receive the votes necessary to become the next Pope, Cardinal Hummes from Brazil leaned over to Bergoglio and said, “Don’t forget the poor.” This is a charge that Pope Francis has not forgotten nor taken lightly.

With this as a compass, Pope Francis has worked to bring an end to extreme poverty and to do so with the dignity of those involved kept intact. Cardinal McCarrick expanded on Pope Francis’ words, asserting that the poor are “not our lower brothers,” but, instead, are our equals and that we must all recognize the freedom of choice, especially in the realm of religion, an issue that effects the poor more than anyone else. He went on to reiterate the Pope’s call to allow the poor to make their own way in the world and to “offer them the pride that comes with being agents of their own future.” We should look for opportunities to facilitate the poor coming into their own, becoming part of their society, and to simultaneously acknowledge the dignity and rights that are inherent in human beings.

These words are meant to inspire and spur those of us who live in the developed world to look upon our less fortunate brothers as equals in the human family. They urge us to look upon those living in conditions of poverty as whole, complete people and recognize in them their rights to make choices in life. It is demanded that we show respect for those who find themselves in situations that many of us cannot fathom, much less relate to. The Pope and the Cardinal ask us to treat the poor, even when giving them a hand up, with the basic dictates of decency.

These points are striking, and the Pope has created a meaningful discourse in shedding light on them. There is sometimes a belief that a person who needs or takes assistance is of a lesser caliber, and, once perceived as such, is treated accordingly. How many of us know what it takes to humble ourselves in such a way? How often have we had to put aside our pride in order to pursue our vision of a better life? These individuals do not require pity or condescension; their needs cannot be solved with handouts and pittance. We should look on those who are brave enough to ask for help as fellows in a common struggle attacked from different vantage points. We are charged with the task of offering the respect that all individuals deserve so that the less fortunate may cultivate within themselves their rightful dignity.

Robyn Emory is a first-year student in Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy & Development.