On my first trip to Asia I was struck by the sheer volume of people, by the noise, the energy, the humidity and by the vast gulf between wealth and poverty. On a long drive from a conference venue I was taking photos of the streets, the people abd the whole great big carnival of life. Suddenly I saw a blind woman walking along the road. You can see the photograph below. I was confronted. We don’t see that kind of poverty in our first world lives.
In our Catholic schools we don’t encounter the type of poverty found in many parts of the world.
Our kids are very rarely hungry, they have endless options and entertainment and distraction are the stuff of their daily lives. Yes, some come from homes where financial strain is a reality but genuine poverty, at least of the financial kind, is rare.
A while ago when studying the Church’s documents on Catholic Education I was struck by a concept called the New Poor. The Church was making the point that while many of our kids are not hungry for material needs many of them lack the other crucial basics of life such as love, hope and the offer of a deeper spiritual existence. Think of the crass commercialism, celebrity fixation, technology addiction and spiritual poverty that many of them have come to accept as normal. Is this not a type of poverty? If you lack, or if you are denied, access to hope, warmth, joy, love, prayer, silence, isn’t this a new type of poverty?
The Church’s documents on Catholic education define the concept of the New Poor in powerful ways. As you look through the list below, how many of them have you experienced in your own students?
- “…those who have lost all sense of meaning in life and lack any inspiring ideal.”
- “…those to whom no values are proposed and who do not know the beauty of faith.”
- “…those who come from families which are broken and incapable of love, often living in situations of material and spiritual poverty.”
- “…those who have become slaves to the idols of a society, which not infrequently, promises them only a future of unemployment and marginalization.”
- “Pupils who shun effort, are incapable of self-sacrifice and perseverance and who lack authentic models to guide them, often even in their own families.”
Is it not true that the deep cynicism that you find in some students is a kind of poverty? What about the emotional deadness of a boy who has been hurt so much by life so young that he has just shut down? What about a young female student who has based her worth in her appearance and believes she is only worth what she looks like? Isn’t that a kind of poverty?
As I have reflected on this it has provided a powerful missionary sense in my own work. And I think it can do the same in yours. It’s not about a pessimistic or negative view where we see every kid as damaged. They are not. But many are hurting and our cultures rapid descent into media obsession and the denial of the divine means a great poverty stalks the world. It’s the poverty of hopelessness.
In many ways Pope Benedict has seen the ‘crisis of hope’ as central to the experience of millions of people in developed nations. If you are a serious Catholic educator then the call is to truly be an apostle of hope, to go toward young people with a message of hope. To tell them in many ways, spoken and unspoken that they matter, that they have been created for a hope and a purpose that there is a God in heaven who loves them and is calling to them in the perfection of creation, the cannon of Scripture, the silence and beauty of the liturgy and the splendour of truth whenever it is shown to them.
They are desperate for hope but they will not tell you. They hunger for meaning but they won’t ask you in plain words. What we need now are evangelised and evangelising Catholic educators. What we need are apostles of hope for the New Poor.