One book that I treasure is The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, by Mary Jo Leddy, a well-known Catholic writer, and the founder of Romero House in Toronto. In her day-to-day work with refugees, Mary Jo “learned that poverty is not simply a social problem to be fixed, not an issue to be addressed” (17) and she offers the following descriptions of poverty:
- Poverty means having a baby alone. Poverty means never having a mother teach you how to cook rice.
- Poverty means spending your nights cleaning the gum from under the seats that rich people used as they watched a play.
- Poverty means liking the art and music that other people own.
- Poverty means that no one ever asks you to stay.
- Poverty means that you can’t go anywhere in the world.
- Poverty means that you can’t help your child with his homework.
- Poverty means being locked up and lonely and talking to yourself in a mirror.
- Poverty means never having a tomorrow. For the very rich, the future is what you make happen. For middleclass people, the future is what you plan for, but for the very poor, the future is just what happens to you. (17-18).
Mary Jo continues “As I lived with Teresita and Jose for two years, poverty was no longer an issue for me, one of my concerns. Poverty had a face and a name. I understood how wrong it was to refer to people as the “poor”. They were persons who were, at this time in their lives, in economic distress. Their immense complexity and the particular story of their lives could not be reduced to a social problem called poverty, to a category of concern or contempt. My desire for justice became focused, and I knew it would be faithful. It was no longer a hobby, a part of my life, an issue that I could walk away from when I wanted to. It would mean giving press conferences to empty rooms, being crushed by the casual indifference of political leaders, dismissed as easily as Teresita had been. Justice had a face and its name was Teresita. Such has been my about-face, my conversion. However, I also believe that this grace is not meant for me alone. I believe that the blessing bestowed by the stranger reveals the outline of a spirituality that is crucial for us in this time, in this place that we call home.” (18)
Can we put a face and name on poverty in our communities or is it an abstract concept for us? Can we continue to work for justice against crushing odds? The answer is we can and must. May I suggest one small step personally and in our church groups: meditate on and discuss the descriptions given above, noting that the focus is on a person not the issue of poverty; and come up with your own descriptions of poverty in your community. Then, what will be YOUR next step?
WICC Board Member and World Day of Prayer International Liaison living in Saskatoon
Note: Mary Jo Leddy lives with refugees at Romero House, a temporary shelter like no other. She invites us to see them with the eyes of Christ and begin to know our true selves.
Picture source: line.17qq.com