Caritas Social Action Network's message for the World Day of the Poor.
Sunday 19 November 2023 is the seventh World Day of the Poor, with the theme of not turning away. Pope Francis takes his inspiration from the elderly Tobit, who says to his son, ““Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor” (Tobit 4:7). Whenever we turn away from those who are poor, we turn away from Jesus himself, who is forever associated with the most vulnerable in society (Matthew 25: 31-46).
Pope Francis goes on to celebrate the next door neighbours, “ordinary people who quietly make themselves poor among the poor. They do more than give alms: they listen, they engage, they try to understand and deal with difficult situations and their causes.” An important theme throughout the papacy of Pope Francis has been the need to do more than just relieve suffering (compassion), but to work to challenge the causes of suffering and do what we can to ensure it does not happen in the first place (justice).
In the Caritas Social Action Network, we have many ordinary people who do extraordinary work with those on the margins of our society, often deprived of the essentials they need – which is their right – to live a dignified life. Staff and volunteers in CSAN member organisations work with people who are hungry, who are destitute and seeking asylum, who are isolated and alone, people who are homeless, or trafficked by criminal gangs, or trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. They do more than give alms. They walk alongside people who are trapped in various forms of poverty – not always material deprivation – and try and help them to regain agency and dignity.
The resources we have gathered here are offered to the Catholic community as a way of deepening our encounter with those who are poor, of examining our own conscience about our lifestyles and how our faith is expressed in loving action. In his message in 2017, the Pope asked Catholic communities in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor to engage in acts of encounter and concrete expressions of charity.
The focus is not fundraising, but encounter, accompaniment and change. We can sometimes ‘subcontract’ our charity by giving money to an organisation in the knowledge that they will do good. They will no doubt do good, but that approach may leave our hearts untouched by the lived experience of poverty. We are called to go ‘beyond fundraising’ on a journey of accompaniment with people in poverty, being converted ourselves in the encounter.
The See-Judge-Act exercise is designed primarily for group use in a parish or a school to discern what actions might be taken to build a better world. Do we know our community, who do we ‘see’ there, who do we not see, what is the Holy Spirit prompting us to do?
The novena is offered as a way to help us to prayerfully encounter in scripture God’s constant care for those who are in various forms of poverty and to prompt in us a desire for more just relations in the community. The readings are not from the readings of the day (apart from the Sunday), this is a separate
devotional exercise. It can be said individually or in school or parish groups.
You will find more details of the diocesan Caritas agencies and independent charities that are members of Caritas Social Action Network on our website at www.csan.org.uk. These charities are engaged in different ways in tackling the causes of poverty, promoting justice and restoring dignity. You will find much inspiration from them for your own social action.
Caritas Social Action Network is an agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales committed to tackling the causes of poverty, promoting justice and restoring dignity, specifically by convening and animating alliances of member charities involved in the social mission of the Church, leading on the formation of those involved in social action, and raising a prophetic Catholic voice in the public arena.