By Nithiya Sagayam
In India every third person lives below the poverty line. And among Christians, nearly 50 percent live in rural areas or city slums, under forced poverty and structural injustice due to the social structures.
In this context, the World Day of the Poor is very relevant in this country. Unless there is concrete effort to solve the concerns of the poorest, the Church will remain a voice away from them, estranged from the periphery of society where they live and struggle.
Ever since the cry of the Blood of Abel, the history of salvation is a series of the cry of the poor. All the message of the prophets and saints were voices of the poor and the neglected in society, be it economic exploitation, social discrimination, cultural oppression or civil or political unrest. Every cry for justice is a cry on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.
The Church, as an instrument of God, has her predominant role of becoming the voice of the poorest. Church of Jesus Christ is fundamentally church of the poor, for the poor and by the poor, because God of Old Testament has always sided with the poor and the same God in Jesus Christ was born poor, lived and died a poor man.
One of the focuses of Pope John XXIII in convening for the Ecumenical Council – Vatican II (21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church – 1962–65) – was a return of the Church to become the Church of the poor.
Even though, lot of newness entered into the Vatican II, one of the eye openers was its document on “Gaudium Et Spes” (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) – the Joy and Hope of the Church is the joy and hope of her people.
Today, one third of the world continues to suffer under forced poverty. The Apostolic Institutions and Religious Congregations that were begun as a response to the cry of the poor through their focus on educational, medical and social apostolate were all shifted into business corporate gradually and once again the poorest and the marginalized get neglected.
A country like India, in which the Christians form 65 percent of her faithful from the Dalit (formerly unteachable) and Tribal background, and who continue to suffer oppression, persecutions and neglect in the name of their caste or clan.
But unfortunately, they are not under top priority in their welfare schemes. The latest built English medium schools which are built mostly with the money from the West, under the pretext of educating the poorest and the marginalized hardly have 20% of the poor Christian children.
In places like Tamil Nadu, South India, more than 80% of their cemeteries are divided in the name of Caste. It is a pity that not much has been done on this unjust inhuman practice within the church. On the one side devotional practices increase while on the other, social injustice towards the poor are not touched.
Education of the poor is one of the key sources of social transformation of the poor and the neglected. The church has both men and materials to implement these basic entitlements of the poor.
Even though, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has held special assembly on the education of the marginalized, no much change has taken place in the policies and implementations. The policies of CBCI on education must have monitoring mechanisms and effective implementations.
The bishops and major superiors of religious congregations have to come up and proclaim their joint statements annually on their commitment towards the welfare of the least, last and the lost with concrete implementation mechanisms. A time bound strategy by the church can certainly bring excellent results in the following years.