Thinking of Poverty

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

November 13, 2007


            During the after-dinner talk, my mind started to wander. My eye traveled around the lavishly appointed hotel ballroom. It had enormous crystal chandeliers and brocade fabric on the walls. It was a beautifully space, but in so many ways ordinary. It was like hundreds of other elegant hotel ballrooms.   

            My mind started to wander to other places. I thought of places of poverty and privation I have visited. I thought of places where sanitation was poor and trash was seen as a resource.

            I remembered barrios in rural Mexico where I was fed rice and beans in tiny adobe houses with corrugated metal roofs. I thought of villages in Africa, in places like Malawi and Ethiopia, where I have spent the night in mud huts. I thought of the meals that the poor had so generously set before me.

            I also thought of abandoned people. I remembered the orphanages I visited in Romania. I remembered the lepers I had worked with briefly in Africa. I thought of people I had seen lying on cots in a makeshift hospital in Ethiopia in the midst of a cholera epidemic. I thought of polio victims I had seen crawling down the roads in Malawi.

            How can all these people dwell on the same planet? How can it be said that the rich and the poor are all children of the same God? Can it be fairly said that they all deal with the same reality? Does God really hear the cry of the poor?

            As we come to Thanksgiving, it is a good time to wonder about these things.  

            I find myself most grateful for the chances I have been given to see life in all its contrasts. I have seen the inside of a banana worker’s house in Costa Rica. I have stayed in a public housing project in Mexico City. I have shared a meal in a shack on the edge of the city dump in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.   

            The life of a Catholic priest in America is one of privilege. If we want we can dwell only in comfort. But it is also true that we can see the whole of the human condition.

            The Pope is called the Pontifex Maximus: the supreme bridge builder.

He may be the top bridge builder, but I think every priest, indeed every Christian, is meant to be a bridge builder.

             We are meant to be a bridge between peoples. To connect the poor to the rich.

            I have the feeling that our Lord would want His priests to be bridge builders. He would want us all to connect the farm owner with the migrant worker. He would want us to bring together the day trader with the day laborer, the lawyer and the landscaper, the professor and the housekeeper.        

            On Thanksgiving Day, most of us are surrounded by excess.

            But I also think the Lord would want our minds to wander beyond our heavily laden tables and our own comfortable surroundings.

            He would want us to see other places, where Lazarus lies at the gate.

            I, for one, have no excuse. I know what lies outside the brocade covered walls of the ballroom. The Lord has given me the privilege of seeing life in all its forms.

            For that I am truly grateful.