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Fighting Poverty: A Look at Structural Causes and Market Assumptions

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October 31, 2014

Pope Francis sparked renewed conversations this week by re-iterating his call to address the “structural causes” of poverty and inequality in the world.

He told the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a gathering convened by the Vatican, that the effort to fight poverty “must be done with courage, but also with intelligence; with tenacity, but without fanaticism; with passion, but without violence." He pointed the assembled activists to the message contained in Matthew 25 – the Last Judgment - "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

The Pope reiterated many of the themes he first explored in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel): "I've said and I repeat: a home for every family.” “Every worker, whether or not part of a formal system of salaried work, has the right to a decent wage, social security and a pension plan." And that every neighborhood should have "adequate infrastructure."                                  

His speech is only officially available in Italian and Spanish but you can view a full report on the Catholic News Service – Pope urges activists to struggle against ‘structural causes of poverty.

Reaction around the world to the Pope’s repeated calls to address poverty in a meaningful way has been fierce – with many welcoming his reading of the “sign of the times” and others challenging his view of the world economic system. But the Pontiff’s challenge is clear, says Bishop Robert McElroy, auxiliary of the Archdiocese of San Francisco:

mcelroy2“The cry of the poor captured in “The Joy of the Gospel” is a challenge to the “individualistic, indifferent and self-centered mentality” so prevalent in the cultures of the world; it is a call to confront the evil of economic exclusion and begin a process of structural reform that will lead to inclusion rather than marginalization,” he writes inAmerica magazine.

As the discussion moves forward, however, Bishop McElroy stresses that we must first examine our basic assumptions in a number of areas:

“[T]he pope’s writings on inequality and economic justice point to the fallacies inherent in a series of major cultural assumptions that are deeply embedded in American society. These assumptions touch upon the meaning and significance of economic inequality itself, the moral standing of free markets and the relationship between economic activity and membership in society.

To read about those assumptions and Bishop McElroy’s challenge to them, read his America article here.