How can we hear the cry of the poor?

We know the poor are never far from us. But often, they are not easy to find, if we don’t know where to look or how to listen to their cry.

Nov 22, 2018

By Anil Netto
We know the poor are never far from us. But often, they are not easy to find, if we don’t know where to look or how to listen to their cry.

So where do we find them?

In his homily on World Day of the Poor, the Bishop of Rome urges us to ask for the grace to hear the cry of those dealt a rough hand in life. Where can they be found?

“The cry of the poor: it is the stifled cry of the unborn, of starving children, of young people more used to the explosion of bombs than happy shouts of the playground.

“It is the cry of the elderly, cast off and abandoned to themselves. It is the cry of all those who face the storms of life without the presence of a friend.

“It is the cry of all those forced to flee their homes and native land for an uncertain future.

“It is the cry of entire peoples, deprived even of the great natural resources at their disposal.

“It is the cry of every Lazarus who weeps while the wealthy few feast on what, in justice, belongs to all.

In Malaysia, the poor and cast off can be found in the homes for senior citizens or those living alone. They can also be found in refugee communities or among undocumented migrant workers living near construction sites.

Or they can be found among the indigenous people who have been forced out of the forests or their native customary land by those who covet the land.

“Injustice is the perverse root of poverty,” says Francis. “The cry of the poor daily grows louder but is heard less and less.”

That cry is drowned out by the noise of the rich, he adds, and wealth is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

Though few in number, the super wealthy have enormous influences and often they have easy access to the corridors of power unlike the poor, whose cry often falls on deaf ears if at all they are heard.

If we are insensitive to their plight, we might not hear their cry. But the cry of the poor reaches the highest heavens, and we can be sure that God leans forward and hears their cry.

But the question is, can we hear their cry? What can we do about it? How do we react?

In Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the poor beggar, Lazarus, was covered with sores and longed to eat what had fallen from the rich man’s plate.

We don’t know for sure if the rich man heard the cries of Lazarus. But then Lazarus was at the rich man’s gate. So it stands to reason that the rich man must have either seen Lazarus or, at the very least, heard his cry as he walked in and out of his gate.

In the afterlife, the positions were reversed. Lazarus was at Abraham’s side while the rich man was in torment in Hades. Between them lay a huge unbridgeable chasm.

Now this chasm is interesting. Was it a chasm that only materialised in the afterlife? Or was this chasm a metaphor for, a continuation of, the unbridgeable gulf that exists between the rich and the poor in our world.

In our present world, this gulf grows wider by the day, making it even more difficult for those who are rich or more well off to hear the cry of the poor — never mind the cry of the earth weeping in silence.

How do we bridge this gulf? Surely, silence, doing nothing, is not an option. We are called to see, judge, act. Or in the case of the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth — to listen, discern and act.

Part of the solution lies in tackling the perversity of social and economic injustice at the root of poverty. This calls for a community response. What can we as a community do to strengthen the bonds of solidarity so that no one is left behind, no one is in need?

It also calls for a personal response. What can each one of us do when we see the poor and hear their cry?

And what if we don’t see or hear them? That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Sometimes, like Lazarus, the chasm is not that wide on this earth. It may just mean that, like Lazarus, we haven’t stepped out of our comfort zone to see the marginalised at “the gate” or at the periphery of society.

It is time we listened more carefully to the stifled cries at the gate.

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