As we observe the Sixth World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis’ message gives us a firm reminder of our duty to our most vulnerable brothers and sisters in our communities and across the globe.
Not only do we need to stand in solidarity with those who are facing oppression of any kind, particularly the millions and millions of Americans who live in poverty, but we also need to take actions that will support and empower them to provide for themselves and their families.
In his annual message for the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis writes that “[w]here the poor are concerned, it is not talk that matters; what matters is rolling up our sleeves and putting our faith into practice through a direct involvement, one that cannot be delegated” (Sixth World Day of the Poor Statement, no. 7).
What matters, Pope Francis says, is being the hands and feet of Christ, and performing the work that changes people’s lives. However, poverty in America is an issue of incomparable scale; it’s not always clear how our direct, individual involvement can contribute to eradicating poverty.
Here, we’ll take a look at six ways you can celebrate the Sixth World Day of the Poor and make a measurable impact in reducing poverty.
1. Reach Out to Your Representatives
When you contact your representatives, tell them about issues that are directly impacting your community. As Pope Francis writes, to this day, “new forms of slavery emerge and entrap persons who lack alternatives and are forced to accept this toxic injustice simply to eke out a living” (Sixth World Day of the Poor Statement, no. 8). For example, millions of people are trapped in low-wage jobs in a world that is increasingly expensive. To make matters worse, corporations steal over $15 billion in wages from low-income individuals each year.
As Pope Francis wrote in his first year of the Pontificate, “[n]one of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice” (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 201). By reaching out to your representatives about issues such as poverty, wage theft, and protections for workers, you can remind them of their responsibilities to each and every one of their constituents, and ask them to take action on the issues that are impacting the lives of people experiencing poverty in your area.
2. Volunteer and Get Involved
Breaking down the systemic forces that allow poverty to persist is critical for eliminating poverty entirely. However, until that can be achieved, volunteering with groups in your community is a great way to make change locally. In communities across the country, there are countless programs and initiatives that provide immediate and long-term help to individuals and families experiencing poverty.
Connecting and volunteering with these organizations not only allows you to make a difference within your community but also reminds us of how fortunate we are. As Pope Francis writes, “[e]ncountering the poor enables us to put an end to many of our anxieties and empty fears, and to arrive at what truly matters in life, the treasure that no one can steal from us: true and gratuitous love” (Sixth World Day of the Poor Statement, no. 8).
3. Assess Your Community’s Needs
The web of poverty is highly complex and multi-faceted. It’s extremely common for two people experiencing poverty to have completely unique experiences. As a result, the needs of individuals and families living in poverty are different as well.
One way to root out poverty is by assessing your community’s needs and comparing those needs to the resources and organizations that currently exist to address them. Look for gaps or missed opportunities within the existing resources. Finally, compile what you find and share it with other community leaders, organizers, and officials who can help you take action to address your community’s needs.
4. Connect With Those in Need
In his message for this Sixth World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis writes that “if we want life to triumph over death, and dignity to be redeemed from injustice, we need to follow Christ’s path of poverty, sharing our lives out of love, breaking the daily bread of existence with our brothers and sisters, beginning with the least of them, those who lack the very essentials of life” (no. 9). Pope Francis writes that by walking side by side with the poor and oppressed, we can “free the poor from their misery and the rich from their vanity, and both from despair” (no. 9).
The last point he hits on—despair— is particularly important. Despair is a symptom of the poverty we seek to eliminate, yet it’s often overlooked. We can’t wrap ‘despair’ up into a neat and tidy statistic, or easily measure its impact on the economy. Despite that, despair is real, and it has a profound effect on both those experiencing poverty and the observers who feel like change is beyond their control.
Let us be like Jesus or St. Charles de Foucauld, and surround ourselves with the poor and the oppressed to escape that despair. After forging those connections, let us use our talents, gifts, time, money, and privilege to empower those who are experiencing poverty to dismantle the systems that allow poverty to continue.
5. Create and Contribute to Dialogue
While some of the extensive poverty seen in America can be attributed to discriminatory practices, in some cases, it persists due to a lack of information. When local leaders don’t take actions that address the community’s needs, it’s easy to assume that they’re doing so deliberately. However, without a vocal community, it can be hard to identify the issues that are impacting individuals within your community.
By attending local meetings, speaking with community leaders, and being a voice for those experiencing poverty in your community, you can be an agent of change. If you have taken other steps listed here, such as connecting with those experiencing poverty, it’s vital to include them in the conversation and avoid making “a policy for the poor, but [not] with the poor, […] much less part of a project that brings people together” (Sixth World Day of the Poor Statement no. 7).
Pope Francis’ message for the Sixth World Day of the Poor reinforces the idea that “where the poor are concerned, it is not talk that matters. What matters is rolling up our sleeves and putting our faith into action through a direct involvement, one that cannot be delegated.” Action for the poor is essential, yet that action can’t always be achieved without funding. To ensure nobody lacks the essentials, we need to empower groups on the ground across America who work day in and day out to eradicate poverty.
If you can, please support the more than 200 grassroots organizations across the country working to address the root causes of poverty by giving generously to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development National Collection in your parish on the weekend of Sunday, November 13th, World Day of the Poor. If you missed the collection, or your (arch)diocese doesn’t participate, you can support the collection online with #iGiveCatholicTogether.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to carry out Jesus’ mission, "...to bring glad tidings to the poor...liberty to captives...sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free" (Luke 4:18).
CCHD follows two main objectives. First, to help low-income people and those experiencing poverty participate in decisions that affect their lives, their families, and communities. Secondly, we seek to educate and enhance the public’s understanding of poverty, its root causes, and the systems that allow it to persist.
To help break the cycle of poverty, support the Catholic Campaign for Human Development collection in your parish. If you miss the collection, or your (arch)diocese doesn’t participate, you can support the collection online or send your donation to
Catholic Campaign for Human Development
USCCB Office of National Collections
P. O. Box 96278
Washington DC 20090-6278
Make your check or money order payable to: "Catholic Campaign for Human Development."
All donations to CCHD are tax-deductible to the extent of the law. A receipt for tax purposes will be provided.