Renewing Our Covenant with the Poor
Making a Preferential Option for the Poor
In the year 2000, St Anselm’s Parish marked the millennium by making a covenant with the poor. This was inspired by the then pope, Saint John Paul II who called for greater action to combat poverty and injustice.
St John Paul declared the year 2000 as a Great Year of Jubilee to celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.
In anticipation of the millennium he issued an Apostolic Letter emphasizing “the Church’s preferential option for the poor and the outcast.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente). We are all familiar with jubilee celebrations. We celebrate a silver jubilee after twenty five years and a golden jubilee after fifty years. St John Paul explained that the idea of the jubilee year is rooted in the Old Testament. According to the Law of Moses, a “sabbatical year” was to be held every seventh year. It was a time specially dedicated to God during which the earth was left fallow, slaves were set free and all debts were cancelled.
The Law of Israel was especially concerned with the protection of the weak, the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the poor. Every fifty years, a special jubilee year was held especially to restore social justice and to assist those in need. In the jubilee year the customs of the sabbatical year were broadened and celebrated with greater solemnity. St John Paul explained that one of the most significant consequences of the jubilee year was that every Israelite regained possession of his ancestral land, if he happened to have sold it or lost it by falling into slavery. He could never be completely deprived of the land, because it belonged to God; nor could the Israelites remain forever in a state of slavery, since God had “redeemed” them for himself as his exclusive possession by freeing them from slavery in Egypt.
St John Paul II added his voice to the Jubilee Debt Campaign, part of a global movement demanding freedom from the slavery of unjust debts and a new financial system that puts people first. International debt of poor countries causes poverty and inequality by extracting wealth and enriching 1% of the world’s population.
When Jesus went to the synagogue and read the following passage he was proclaiming the fulfilment of the whole tradition of Jubilees in the Old Testament:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (61:1-2).
The Catholic Church has always been concerned with the poor and the Church’s social doctrine has developed greatly since the Encyclical Rerum Novarum was published in 1891. Catholic Social Teaching is deeply rooted in the tradition of the jubilee year.
The Second Vatican Council highlighted the Church’s concern for the poor saying:
“The joys and the hopes, the grief’s and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the grief’s and anxieties of the followers of Christ”. (Gaudium et Spes, 1965)
In his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, St John Paul II described the challenge at the beginning of the new millennium as follows:
“Our world is entering the new millennium burdened by the contradictions of an economic, cultural and technological progress which offers immense possibilities to a fortunate few, while leaving millions of others not only on the margins of progress but in living conditions far below the minimum demanded by human dignity. How can it be that even today there are still people dying of hunger? Condemned to illiteracy? Lacking the most basic medical care? Without a roof over their heads? …………..
…………. And how can we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological crisis which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable and hostile to humanity? Or by the problems of peace, so often threatened by the spectre of catastrophic wars? Or by contempt for the fundamental human rights of so many people, especially children? Countless are the emergencies to which every Christian heart must be sensitive”.
Our Covenant with the Poor: So in 2000, parishioners at St Anselm’s made a solemn promise to restore social justice and assist those in need.
Our Covenant reads:
“Because our Covenant with the poor is at the heart of the Jubilee celebrations of the Millennium, we, the people of St Anselm’s Tooting Bec, in solemn New Covenant with the Poor, promise to work to transform the injustices in communities, our society and our world. Our Covenant commits us to: Share wealth, speak out for the voiceless and place the poor at the heart of our prayer.”
Like other parts of the Catholic Church, St Anselm’s is deeply spiritual
and focused on the Eucharist. The Latin phrase “lex orandi, lex
credendi” which can be translated “as we pray, so we believe” or
“praying shapes believing” is central to our covenant with the poor.
Consequently our prayer life, our liturgies and spiritual activities are an integral part of our social action and our covenant with the poor.
Caring Kitchen: As a visible sign of witness parishioners provide a free Sunday Lunch twice a month for parishioners and people in the local community. An important part of this initiative called Caring Kitchen is to provide friendship and companionship. Similarly the Soup & Sandwich Club provides a warm welcome and food to parishioners and people in the community.
ACN & Persecuted Christians: Concern for persecuted Christians in various parts of the world such as North Korea and Pakistan, is the main focus of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). This concern is shared by parishioners at St Anselm’s.
Since 2011, an estimated half a million people, many of them Christians, have been killed in the ongoing civil war in Syria. These have been victims of war crimes by the regime of Bashar Hafez al-Assad and equally heinous crimes committed by the fanatical Islamist terrorist group ISIS or DAESH. Parishioners raised over £25,000 to support the work of Sr. Annie Demerjian who works with a very depleted Christian community who have chosen to remain in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo.
CAFOD: The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development is an international development charity and the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. For many years our parishioners have generously supported CAFOD’s Family Lenten & Harvest annual Fast Days which this year focuses on fighting hunger and malnutrition in Zimbabwe.
Live Simply: In solidarity with the poor, St Anselm’s registered to work towards achieving Cafod’s Live Simply Award. We pledge to live simply by:
- Saying Grace Before and After Meals
- Having one meat free day a week (traditionally Friday)
- Not to waste water by letting taps run unnecessarily.
- Cook only the amount of food needed so as not to waste food.
- Use any left-over food.
- Turn lights and electrical appliances off when not in use.
- Put on another layer of clothes instead of turning the heating on.
- Recycle as much as possible.
- Recite the Live Simply Prayer once a day.
- Spend time to contemplate the wonders of creation.
Society of St Vincent de Paul: The local SVP “conference” is a vital part of our covenant with the poor. SVP members in the parish help the needy and housebound in the parish with shopping, paying bills and accompanying people to their GP and hospital appointments.
The SVP also provides clothing, food and Vinnie Packs to homeless charities such as the Manna Centre and the Spires.
St Anselm’s SVP conference is twinned with St Mary’s conference in Kannoth, India providing help with education, agriculture and self help projects for widows.
The SVP also supports the following:
- Wandsworth Food Bank: St Anselm’s supports the national food-bank network by working with St Paul’s Church, Wellham Road, providing groceries to help people who are unemployed or barely managing.
- Wandsworth Prison: Over 300 Catholic prisoners at Wandsworth prison are provided reading materials throughout the year and Rosaries, calendars, and diaries at Christmas time. A priest from the parish is available to celebrate Mass and hear Confessions once a month.
Justice & Peace: In an article entitled “Our Covenant with the poor” Canon William Hebborn said: “how can we fail to lay greater emphasis on the Church’s preferential option for the poor and outcast? If we are to help build a ‘civilisation of love’ we must be prepared to prayerfully join in the struggle for justice and peace in the world”.
Indeed if we fail to actively work for justice and peace, we are no more than the “hired hands” and not “good shepherds”.
To mark the Year of Faith (2012-13) Canon William re-launched the Justice and Peace group in the parish which had lay dormant for some years. This is a vital part of our covenant with the poor because as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident said: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
Laudato Si: The Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth The J&P group held a series of workshops to raise awareness of environmental injustice using Laudato Si’, an encyclical of the present pope, Francis I. In this encyclical Pope Francis repeated St John Paul’s call for “ecological conversion”. Registering for Cafod’s Live Simply Award is an attempt to respond to this call for conversion “to live simply so that others can simply live.”
Renewing Our Covenant with the Poor
Today, we take time to renew our solemn covenant with the poor and commit ourselves:
- To pray every day for people who live on the margins of our society because they are disadvantaged;
- To raise our awareness of the causes of poverty and identify a Christ-like response to injustice;
- To continue to support Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), CAFOD, Pax Christi, Christian Aid and other organisations who work for justice and peace in the light of Catholic Social Teaching;
- To continue to proclaim the Good News through the apostolate of Caring Kitchen and the Society of St Vincent de Paul;
- To renew our promise to live simply by encouraging people to make the pledge to live simply;
- To highlight the parish’s Live Simply Action Plan and take positive action to meet the goals of the plan;
- To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the encyclical Laudato Si’ by holding an evening of prayer and reflection on the spirituality of St Francis;
- To honour people killed in wars that have scarred our history by denouncing all wars and calling for an end to nuclear weapons in every country of the world;
- To celebrate “The Year of the Eucharist” by focusing on the cosmic Christ and intergenerational justice. In the words of St John Chrysostom:”If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”