The Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development

Spotlight on Poverty: World Day of the Poor

World Day of the Poor 2021 Logo

Spotlight on Poverty: World Day of the Poor

By Sophie Lee (November 2021)

November 14th 2021 is marked in the Vatican Calendar as the fifth annual World Day of the Poor. This day is intended for all Catholics to reflect on how the poor are at the very heart of the Gospel, and to work with the poor and marginalised as we are called to discover Christ in them. 

Two years on from the beginning of COVID-19’s era of ‘unprecedented times,’ we reflect on the new challenges and trials that the pandemic has brought about. In the communities we work in, issues of poverty have been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

The pandemic has meant that we are faced with new challenges. Senior Programmes Coordinator Phil Brass notes that ‘there is a profound shift occurring as we approach 2 years of COVID19 impacts on many already poor communities.’ We are seeing challenges such as loss of employment, increases in gender based and family violence, stress in families, lack of ability to access services such as education and health, and difficulty maintaining nutritional food sources such as community gardens. Some predictions contemplate that due to the pandemic, incremental improvements in human development indicators have been set back by up to a decade in places we work such as Timor Leste and Rural Fiji. To us, this means that our work is more vital than ever. Not only are we working to address the dangers of COVID for in poor and vulnerable communities, but we are also working to develop resilient communities and sustainable practices that elevate and empower those involved. 

Poverty is a risk multiplier in that it increases the dangers and impact of other risk factors. People in extreme poverty face worse outcomes in terms of integral human development, including in education, health and wellbeing.  

CANZ has been working throughout the pandemic to address the way that poverty impacts at risk groups, such as children in remote locations in Papua New Guinea, who have struggled to be able to access education when learning went online. We see it as crucial to ensure that those with the least are not left behind as the world moves online. These children have a right to education, and should not be excluded due to a lack of resources. Their story emphasises how important it is for us to consider how poverty impacts people differently. 


Reflecting on Pope Francis' World Day of the Poor Message

Reflecting on Pope Francis’ words, the conclusion is unavoidable – every day is the day of the poor, because the poor are “a concrete sign pointing to His presence among us.” (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Fifth World Day of the Poor #2) 

Pope Francis’ message refers us to the Gospel of Mark and tells of how the ‘anonymous woman’ represents all those women throughout history who suffer violence and silence and were present at the supreme moments of Christ’s life – crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. When we reflect on poverty, we must reflect on its impact on those who suffer silently. While we may not always hear their voices loudly, the poor are always with us. Deepening of poverty impacts women and girls in unique ways. Increased stress on families due to financial hardship, lockdowns, and major life changes, has resulted in increased family violence and gender-based violence in many places, including the communities we work in. Much of Caritas’ work, especially through the He Oranga Taurikura Programme, is focussed on girls and women. We work to empower women in business and education, and to alleviate the impact of poverty on their lives. By providing improved ablution and accommodation facilities for women and girls in rural training centres, for example, we can make education safe and accessible so that women are empowered to train and gain skills for a self-sufficient life.  

His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us that International Day for the Poor is a time to draw near as a community, and to reach out – recognising that we are one world.  Mark 14:7 is a reminder that the poor are always with us, and there is always an opportunity to give generously to those in need, and in doing so, to know the grace of Christ. 

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Tutu ana te puehu - Stirring up the dust