What do the poor really need?

There is controversy and confusion about what it means to and how we should help the poor, especially those in developing countries. While I don’t want to oversimplify the discussion, the secular approach is based on the conviction that providing food, clean water, education and access to medical care and contraception will eliminate poverty and solve most of the world's problems. This proposition is, at best, incomplete. But unfortunately even some Catholic organizations, at times, fall into this trap. If we look at suicide levels, use of antidepressants, divorce rates, substance abuse and violence to others, just to mention a few, we realize that the so called developed nations are in no better shape and maybe even worse than “developing countries”. Blessed Mother Teresa once said that she had never seen so much poverty as when she visited the United States. She referred, of course, to spiritual and emotional poverty. No matter where they live, the deeper longings of all human beings are to be loved and to experience true joy. As Catholics, we are therefore called to share with the poor not only food, water and medicine to nurture their bodies, but also God’s love and mercy, which are food for true joy and lead us to eternal life. Jesus asked the disciples to go and teach the good news to all. This is what it means to be an “apostolic” church. As St. Augustine said: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

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