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Sister Jennibeth Sabay reflects on the discovery of Christ in the poor on the occasion of the 5th World Day of the Poor. 

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A nun, a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, visits the poor in a slum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines.

In the personal notes of a French saint and founder of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, Saint Emilie de Villeneuve (1811-1854) shared a subject of her meditation: "A good soul, very charitable, said to God when going to see a poor man who was in very bad shape: "My God, you are well hidden in this poor man but in any case I will do so that I will be able to find you in him."

  She expressed in one of her prayers: "Our spirit of faith makes us contemplate God alone in all things and all things in God alone".

Emilie dedicated her life to the service of the poor and suffering members of Jesus. It was especially in the faces of the poor, the lame, the criminals, the orphans and the women that she saw God. She left her social privileges, her family, relatives and friends to be close to the poor, to live, to work and to experience their feelings. She died of cholera in France in 1854, during an epidemic, after a lifetime of service to God's poor.

"The poor are always with us" (Mark 14:7) is the theme of Pope Francis' message for the 5th World Day of the Poor, which will be commemorated on November 14, 2021.

The World Day of the Poor has been observed on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time since 2017. Pope Francis established it in “Misericordia et Misera,” an apostolic letter published on November 20, 2016, to mark the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

According to Pope Francis, the face of God revealed by Jesus is that of a Father concerned and close to the poor. "We see Jesus in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and their needs, in the often inhuman conditions in which they are forced to live."

“The poor are true evangelizers, because they were the first to be evangelized and called to share the joy of the Lord and his kingdom,” Pope Francis said in his message.

He stressed the need for conversion, seeing the poor not as a "category" in need of specific charitable services, "but taking up the challenge of mutual sharing and commitment".

 

"Changing this way of thinking and taking up the challenge of mutual sharing and involvement in the lives of others, especially the poor."

In Saint John Paul II's encyclical, Centesimus Annus #28, it is also said "to abandon a mentality in which the poor - as individuals and as peoples - are seen as a burden, as troublesome intruders trying to consume what others have produced."

Indeed, for the poor, to the lack of material goods is added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from emerging from their state of humiliating subjection. (CA No. 33)

Pope Francis emphasized in his message that the poor know the suffering Christ through their suffering. They have a lot to teach us.

"The poor often teach us solidarity and sharing. Admittedly, they are people who lack certain things, often many things, including the bare necessities, but they do not lack everything, because they retain the dignity of 'children of God whom nothing and no one can take from them.

poor man's day - november 14, 2021

Nuns, members of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, visit the poor in the slums of Manila, Philippines.

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According to the United Nations, the COVID-19 pandemic is having profound effects on poverty - increasing the number of people living or at risk of living in poverty and widening the gaps between rich and poor. Reduced income, unemployment, food insecurity, inadequate education, and increased domestic violence deepen poverty.

 

The pope underlined in his message “the urgency of offering concrete answers to those who are unemployed, whose number includes many fathers, mothers and young people.” Social solidarity and generosity are the most significant contribution at this time, he added.

He urged the faithful "to become aware of the needs of the poor, which are constantly changing, as are their living conditions..., to meet the poor personally where they are, to understand what they feel, what 'they live and what their heart desires.'

“Poverty should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a fulfilling life according to each person's abilities,” he added in his message.

Jesus is the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor because he represents them all. We don't find it when and where we want, but we see it in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and needs, he said.

Many exemplary saints have made sharing with the poor their life plan. The pope mentioned the father (saint) Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), the apostle of the lepers who dedicated his life for them.

We are invited to give our lives for the service of the poorest of the poor, as Saint Emilie de Villeneuve said to her father, "it is for God that I leave you, I want to serve the poor."

As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those who have the greatest needs and who demand the greatest response. May we see Jesus in the face of the poor.

(Jennibeth Sabay is a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, a missionary congregation committed to the poorest of the poor).

Mission challenges us to accompany the poor in their struggles by Sister Jennibeth Sabay

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Mission  of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception with children from disadvantaged neighborhoods at the Maison d'Emilie in Querzon City. (Photo of the mission in 2014).

Who are the poor? We all have different ideas of what the poor are; our ideas can be linked to our own life experiences.

Previously, when I heard the word "poor", I immediately thought of materially poor people.

I started to understand and discover that there are different concepts of poverty or being poor - including material, spiritual, emotional; or solidarity with them; or the poor as evangelizers.

Poverty is not always negative, but there is some poverty that is imposed, resulting from unjust structural systems that need to be critically examined and addressed.

We too have our ideas, our thoughts, our feelings and even our prejudices with regard to the poor.

God knows and hears the cry of the poor (Psalm 34:7) - especially those who are victims of unjust systems in society. It inhabits people whose situation can be considered hopeless in the eyes of society. God desires everyone to have life to the full (John 10:10), which includes freedom from all forms of injustice, suffering, violence and discrimination – so that each person is treated with respect and value. He continues to provide for the needs of his children, giving preference to those who need it most.

“Father, it is for God that I leave you. I want to serve the poor”. These were the words of Saint Emilie de Villeneuve, a French Catholic nun (and founder of my congregation), to her father when she told him of her desire to consecrate her life to God in the service of the poorest of the poor.

The fact that she saw and lived the situations of God's poor prompted her to make herself freely available to them. She wanted to be with the poor - the sick, prostituted women, prisoners - to show them, in her own way, that God loves them..

His passion was his love for God and his poor. She wanted not only to help them, but also to give her life for them, to treat them as equals, to restore their lost dignity as human beings, following the example of Jesus, whose heart was always turned towards the poor and the suffering. . 

I worked as a nurse in the provincial health office of my city in the Philippines for a few years before joining the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres.

Most of the people seeking help in our office were destitute and poor - those who could not afford to pay for their health care, who depended on free government services.

I was assigned to the animal bite treatment center, where I administered rabies injections to poor people in provinces who could not afford to pay in hospitals.

While helping the National Tuberculosis Control Program in the office, I also saw that the poor were the most severely affected by most infectious diseases. It is a sad reality that their living conditions and their poverty contribute to their state of health.

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Mission with underprivileged children and families - Children's ministry.

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Now belonging to a missionary congregation committed to the poorest of the poor, I had the opportunity to experience being with the poor in different regions. These experiences allowed me to see more clearly the different faces of poverty: malnutrition, unemployment, homelessness, inhuman living conditions, diseases and other conditions that threaten all aspects of human life.

One of the mission areas of the sisters of the Pag-asa community CROP.jpg Mindanao Avenue, Barangay Pag-asa, Quezon City, Philippines, in 2019 (Lady Anne Cardoso)Mindanao Avenue, Barangay Pag-asa, Quezon City, Philippines, in 2019 (Lady Anne Cardoso)

 

Seeing these unfortunate realities opened my eyes, gave me perspective, raised my awareness, and then God pointed me down this path. 

My encounters with families and children in shantytowns or depressed places in our mission areas also made me aware of the evangelizing power of the poor. I see in them hope, joy, gratitude and faith in God - despite their suffering and difficulties.

As Evangelii Gaudium points out, "I am a mission on this earth; that is why I am here in this world. We must consider ourselves sealed, even branded, by this mission to bring light , to bless, to enliven, to uplift, to heal and to liberate."

As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to accompany the poor in their struggles, to hear their cries and needs, to empower them and bring out the best in them, despite their circumstances, and to accompany them in their quest for justice.

Everyone is poor, in the sense that everyone needs to be connected to God, who is the source of everything. Each of us has something to give and each of us has needs to be met. As in the breath, we absorb and we emit.

We must recognize ourselves as part of the whole body of Jesus, the church, which is a church of the poor. We welcome our immolation and let ourselves be immersed in reality and transformed to have a heart like Jesus, a heart for the poor. We are also invited to make our life a testimony of what the kingdom of God is.

 
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