CCN PHOTO | DEBORAH GYAPONG
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher said to target a small issue and do something about it.
Continue to help the poor but also find ways to fight the causes of poverty, Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Que., told members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul June 28.
In a keynote address to the SSVP's Canadian national council's annual general assembly in Ottawa, Durocher recalled the orphanage in Sudbury, Ont., founded in the early 20th century and run by religious sisters.
The sisters helped the poor by dealing with the many orphans in the area left fatherless because of the dangerous working conditions in the mines.
Efforts through unions and social pressure exerted by the Church improved working conditions in the mines, tackling the cause of the problem. Now there is no longer an orphanage in Sudbury, he said, noting mining deaths are a rare occurrence today.
The archbishop suggested three steps in combining help for the poor with efforts to fight poverty.
"Your charism is helping the poor and you cannot afford to lose that charism," Durocher said. This charism keeps SSVP members "close to your brothers and sisters" in intimacy. It makes helping the poor a "sacrament of love – agape – for them," he said.
"Complement that work by entering into the social analysis and the action part at the local level," Durocher said. "It's a lot easier to change things at the local level."
This way the charitable work of the SSVP can become even more fruitful, he said. The organization will both help the poor in a concrete way and fight the situations that cause poverty.
Durocher noted old people, single mothers and aboriginal people are more vulnerable to poverty than other groups. "When couples fall apart, the woman is left with the children," he said. "Often the men are no longer to be seen."
A single woman might struggle to raise her children working at a low-paying job that is "barely enough to get through the week," he said.
For aboriginal Canadians, racism is one cause of poverty, he said. "We don't speak about it much in Canada. We don't want to acknowledge it."
When an old woman or a single mother with three children come for help, "your heart goes out," he said. But when a native man comes, the reaction is negative.
Pope Francis has given wonderful messages about the link between charity and justice and about faith and action, Durocher said. Many of his messages are in line with the mission and values of the SSVP.
Pope Francis has said you can't speak of poverty without having an experience with the poor, Durocher said. The pope has asked if you touch the hand of the person to whom you give alms or do you just toss the coin.
"That's a huge question," he said. "When we bring a Christmas hamper into a house, do we really enter into contact with that person?"
For Christians, poverty is not only a social or intellectual category, it's a theological category, Durocher said. The Son of God made himself poor to be one of us.
"You can't speak about poverty without the poverty of the poor Jesus who is sick or living in unjust social circumstances," he said. Don't let your own well-being rob yourself of hope. Instead, look for where you can find hope "in the flesh of Jesus who suffers and in true poverty."
More than 200 delegates from SSVP conferences across Canada attended the assembly.