It is reported that very shortly after being elected Pope, and just before appearing on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica for the first time to greet the crowds, one of the cardinals closest to the new Holy Father whispered to him: “Don’t forget the poor”.
This Christmas I would like to whisper to you the same message … “Don’t forget the poor.”
Poverty is a scourge, in whatever form it presents itself, and we can sometimes feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. But even if we can’t, on our own, solve the problems of malnutrition of Africa or eliminate child poverty in our own land, we can all do something.
I would like to suggest to you three kinds of poverty which each of us could help alleviate in some small way this Christmas season:
The first of these is material poverty. We should make an effort not to become inured to news reports showing children and adults begging for food in war-torn areas of the world. Just think of how awful it must be to feel pain in your body, anxiety as your children cry for food, and humiliation as you are forced to beg for scraps. This is the awful reality for literally millions of our fellow human beings. What a scandal! Similarly, we must never become used to statistics which show 34 per cent of all children in Glasgow were living in poverty last year. We can all help (even in a small way) by being generous to overseas aid agencies like SCIAF and local charities like the St Nicholas Care Fund which assists communities in our own back yard whose lives are blighted by lack of resources.
The second poverty we can try to alleviate is social poverty. Older people shouldn’t feel lonely and isolated. Can you imagine how it feels not to speak to another human being for a whole month? Most of us would agree that would be pretty tough. Yet, sadly, loneliness and isolation are a stark reality for around 100,000 older people living in Scotland today. We can all help in our own small way by dropping in with a Christmas card or gift to an older person living alone in our own street or neighbourhood, or by inviting an elderly neighbour or relative to join us at our Christmas gatherings. Such gestures of common humanity cost nothing financially but can be hugely important to people living in isolation.
The third poverty we can help tackle is spiritual poverty. All around us our fellow citizens look forward to the Christmas feast without really knowing what it’s all about. We can do a great deal of good by simply being ourselves, without being ostentatious or judgemental, and explaining to our work colleagues, friends and relations why we go to Midnight Mass, or why we put a crib in a place of honour in our houses at this time of year. It’s hard for us to imagine, but many people have very little idea of the nativity of Jesus. With our lives (and sometimes with our words!) we need to help dispel that poverty, by helping others realise that when God entered human history, through the birth of Jesus Christ at Bethlehem 2000 years ago, our human story changed decisively for the better.
May these thoughts offer you some ideas as you continue the Advent path towards the great feast of Christmas. And remember …don’t forget the poor.
Archbishop of Glasgow
• Source: Archdiocese of Glasgow.