Jim Shaw at the Catholic Herald has written a provocative piece that suggests one of the best ways to fight poverty is to support Catholic religious orders. He writes about his experiences in Africa: the lack of rule of law, the petty corruption that eats away at the poor, how lack of infrastructure obstructs progress for farmers and other businesses. The density of these issues seem insurmountable.
The sheer intractability of these problems should serve as a warning against utopian solutions to world poverty. It may also remind us of the true basis of solidarity between human beings, which is spiritual and personal, not technical or economic. As Pope Benedict XVI has written, we cannot help the poor if we regard their problems in exclusively material terms. Lack of bread and abuse of power are real and must be addressed, but they arise in a human – that is, a spiritual and moral – context.
If we try to fix material problems in isolation, Pope Benedict argues, without recognising the “ordering of goods” which places God at the centre of human life, we will end up replicating the dystopian nightmare of Marxism or the relativistic nihilism of the contemporary West.
Shaw then goes on to suggest that one group of people has remained a fixed and steady influence for progress against poverty: religious orders.
Religious orders’ vows of poverty protect them from the tendency to make a good living out of helping others in distress. Most fundamentally, the fact that their work arises out of, and is constantly renewed by the sacramental life of the Church, means that the poor are not seen as a problem to be solved or an opportunity to be exploited. From the point of view of Catholics living in the West, the missionary orders offer virtually unlimited opportunities to participate in their work.
This piece is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.