A relevant message from the pope


A relevant message from the pope

Friday, November 22, 2019

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The message came from more than 5,000 miles across the Atlantic, but it was most relevant to us here in Jamaica as it addressed one of the pressing issues in our society — poverty and how we as individuals, and the country in general, deal with the poor and marginalised.

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, was very forthright in his comments while he hosted approximately 1,500 poor and homeless people for lunch at the Vatican on Sunday as the church marked its World Day of the Poor.

Decrying general unconcern for the poor, the pope said he recently saw some statistics on poverty that basically highlighted the indifference of society towards the disadvantaged among us.

Based on the wire service report, the pope did not quote the poverty data to which he referred; however, the United Nations (UN) tells us that while global poverty rates have been cut by more than half since 2000, one in 10 people (783 million) in developing regions still lives on less than US$1.90 a day, which is the internationally agreed poverty line, and millions of others live on slightly more than this daily amount.

Here in Jamaica, the poverty rate, we are told, is now at 17 per cent. While that is significant, we note a recent response from Finance and Planning Minister Dr Nigel Clarke that the 2017 data from the planning and statistical institutes point to a broader declining poverty trend in the country.

According to Dr Clarke, what was striking was the modest decline in rural poverty in 2017, from 20.5 per cent in 2016 to 20.1 per cent, despite negative agricultural growth of -3.5 per cent due to the floods which impacted crop yields that year.

Dr Clarke, his colleagues in the executive and, we are sure, all members of the legislature know that there is a lot more to be done to reduce poverty in keeping with Jamaica's commitment to the UN's goal of ending poverty in all its forms as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

That is why they have all contributed to the development of the integrated national policy on poverty and national poverty-reduction programme spearheaded by the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

But even as the State implements programmes and policies to end poverty and reduce extreme poverty, Jamaicans who are in a position to help the most impoverished need to recognise that they have a role to play in the country realising this ideal.

Just imagine what could be achieved if more of us assisted the religious organisations and charities, such as Missionaries Of the Poor, Mustard Seed Communities, Food For the Poor, to name a few, as well as the many foundations that are helping people in this country daily.

Imagine, too, how much better we would be if as Pope Francis pointed out in his mass in Saint Peter's Square ahead of the lunch on Sunday so many of us were not focused on “the frenzy of running, of achieving everything right now”, viewing anyone left behind as a nuisance, and considering them “disposable”.

Hopefully Pope Francis pricked many a conscience when he said: “How many elderly, unborn, disabled, and poor persons are considered useless. We go our way in haste, without worrying that gaps are increasing, that the greed of a few is adding to the poverty of many others.”

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