“The silent cry of so many poor men, women and children should find the people of God at the forefront, always and everywhere, in efforts to give them a voice, to protect and support them in the face of hypocrisy and so many unfulfilled promises, and to invite them to share in the life of the community.”

(Pope Francis, Message for the World Day of the Poor, 2020)

The fourth World Day of the Poor comes in a year when the pandemic has brutally exposed the ever widening division between rich and poor. In the UK, the Trussell Trust have given out 1.2million parcels in the months between April and September via their network of Foodbanks, many run from church halls, and community centres. Many other churches act as donation points, and the generosity of congregations is amazing. You can read more at https://www.trusselltrust.org/ and join the #HungerFreeFuture campaign. Foodbanks are a sticking plaster on the wound that is structural inequality; a flawed benefits system penalises those who are in desperate need, and a Government set “National Minimum Wage” is at a level where those who receive it cannot afford both rent and food. Add to that the precarious nature of zero hours contracts, and it all leads to the especially sad reality that over 400,000 of the food parcels given by the Trussell Trust were for children.

The Diocese of Brentwood is signed up to the Real Living Wage – find out more at https://www.livingwage.org.uk/. If you are an employer and you are not yet signed up to pay the Living Wage, please look into it; you will transform the lives of your employees (and, by the way, improve your company’s reputation as an employer, as well as your productivity).

On this website you will find a range of local groups supporting people across Essex and East London. These include the amazing Brentwood Catholic Children’s Society who are heroically supporting many children and families in stressed and troubled circumstances. You will also find the contact details for many local St Vincent de Paul Society groups, helping locally, especially with those who are elderly and alone. For the homeless our largest project within the Diocese is Caritas Anchor House, Newham and there are also projects in Basildon, Southend, Ilford, Chelmsford and Colchester. If you are able to volunteer, or you are in need of help, then get searching – there will definitely be something for you.

In his message for today, Pope Francis does not pull his punches: “The command: “Stretch forth your hand to the poor” challenges the attitude of those who prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and to remain unmoved by situations of poverty in which they are often complicit. Indifference and cynicism are their daily food. What a difference from the generous hands we have described! If they stretch out their hands, it is to touch computer keys to transfer sums of money from one part of the world to another, ensuring the wealth of an elite few and the dire poverty of millions and the ruin of entire nations. Some hands are outstretched to accumulate money by the sale of weapons that others, including those of children, use to sow death and poverty. Other hands are outstretched to deal doses of death in dark alleys in order to grow rich and live in luxury and excess, or to quietly pass a bribe for the sake of quick and corrupt gain. Others still, parading a sham respectability, lay down laws which they themselves do not observe.” 

Share these words! Let everyone know that we have a Pope who champions the poor, and who calls out corruption amongst the elites in our world.

Overseas the pandemic is, in some places, having far more ravaging and desolate effects than in the UK. In countries where medical infrastructure was already weak, the combination of pandemic and poverty is literally deadly. Overcrowded dwellings, limited or no access to fresh water, and shared toilet facilities, all spread Coronavirus rapidly. In slums across Africa, Central America, and Asia, as well as in refugee camps in the Middle East and across the world, the situation is desperate. Read more, volunteer and support at https://cafod.org.uk/  https://www.jrsuk.net/ and https://helprefugees.org/

Pope Francis’ message reminds us of the many, many “outstretched hands” making a difference in the pandemic, in wonderful ways: “A hand held out is a sign; a sign that immediately speaks of closeness, solidarity and love. In these months, when the whole world was prey to a virus that brought pain and death, despair and bewilderment, how many outstretched hands have we seen! The outstretched hands of physicians who cared about each patient and tried to find the right cure. The outstretched hands of nurses who worked overtime, for hours on end, to look after the sick. The outstretched hands of administrators who procured the means to save as many lives as possible. The outstretched hands of pharmacists who at personal risk responded to people’s pressing needs. The outstretched hands of priests whose hearts broke as they offered a blessing. The outstretched hands of volunteers who helped people living on the streets and those with a home yet nothing to eat. The outstretched hands of men and women who worked to provide essential services and security. We could continue to speak of so many other outstretched hands, all of which make up a great litany of good works. Those hands defied contagion and fear in order to offer support and consolation.”

This week, and every week, through the many and varied groups which make up Caritas Diocese of Brentwood, we know there will be thousands of “outstretched hands, defying contagion and fear in order to offer support and consolation.” This is our faith, lived.

You can find the full text of the Pope’s message here: Pope Francis Message for Fourth World Day of the Poor