Pray For Children

"Give us this day our daily bread"

Isn't that all most of us need? Our daily bread to eat, a roof over our heads, somewhere to rest and clothes on our bodies to keep us warm when we need them. In this modern day and enlightened age, surely mankind is capable of surmounting the obstacles that dogged his ancestors in providing the basic necessities for a dignified way of life for himself and, if he is blessed with them, his children? Man has placed satellites in orbit so that he may see the earth and determine the movement of the weather about it. He has made the study of agriculture into a science and has developed the machinery to implement the best possible means of cultivation and production. He knows what to produce, what is good for him and what is also bad for him. So, what is wrong? Why are graphic images of starving families still in existence, in the 21st century?

"And lead us not into temptation"

In the Asian, African and Latin American countries, well over 500 million people are living in what the World Bank has called "absolute poverty". Every year 15 million children die of hunger. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of the world is well-fed, one-third is under-fed and one-third is starving. One in twelve people worldwide is malnourished, including 160 million children under the age of 5.

Last Monday (20.1.14), Oxfam reported that the richest 85 people on earth controlled the same wealth as the poorest half of the global populaton. As one analyst pointed out, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as 42,000,000 people. Oxfam's message was that the super-rich had successfully captured the democratic process, so that the politicians now write the laws, for the benefit of the very view, rather than for the greater good.

What do so few do or need with all of that money? How can they possibly spend it on themselves, their families, their wants, their desires? What philosophy drives them to accumulate so much, at the expense of so many? Perhaps it is greed, something which Erich Seligmann Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) a German social psychologist, psychoanalyst, sociologist, humanistic philosopher, and democratic socialist. described as "a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction." What will be the inevitable outcome if the gap between the uber-rich and the very poor assumes the height of Everest, or the depth of the deepest ocean? Does this even worry them?

Unfortunately, the naked lunge for riches and profits is not the only cause of poverty, although such ambition is probably a factor in some of the other drivers. The war in Syria is capturing our imagination at present, the terrifying, horrifying images bombarding us daily, from several sources, in the homes of those of us with televisions and internet facilities; or even just newspapers. What is the cause? Who are the main protagonists? Who will win?

We know who is losing at the moment. The families who have been devasted due to loss of lives and homes, incomes and basic necessities. Thousands, hundreds of thousands and even millions have been forced into exile, as refugees, surviving in crowded camps, in thin-walled tents, relying on the charity of others. The starkest images perhaps are of little children, orphaned, injured - sometimes horrifically, left for dead, starving. Or of those children smiling at the camera while they admit to making bombs for the 'cause'. We have seen similar images before. You wonder at the perceived lack of humanity, heartlessness, cruelty and perhaps psychotic nature of people who prosecute wars, when they appear to do so, unmoved by the slaughter of innocent lives; and the starvation of even the very young who survive the conflicts.

And what about those improved methods of food production referred to earlier? It is a matter of fact that we can produce enough to feed the world's population every year. For different reasons, countries stockpile or create huge mountains of food and reservoirs of drink. Some of this thinking has a genuine basis, as in the need to prepare for the impact of severe weather conditions. However, curbing supplies in the face of increasing demand also pushes up prices for producers and processors.

Yes, weather has always been a factor when it comes to poverty. We are reminded of this when we read our bibles. It is still relevant today, and help and assistance arrives, eventually, but not before so many lives are lost. Prevention and intervention must be more timely.

What about nearer to our home? Ireland is a developed country, one of the world's richest, deemed to have reached the dizzying heights of sixth position, according to Standard & Poor's agency in 2007. Even with its ongoing financial meltdown since then, it still ranks at 13th position in 2013, if you accept figures and estimates from the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Database (April 2013). But, does this mean that all Irish families are rich?

Reports by Bank of Ireland and Credit Suisse estimate that between 2006 and 2011, the wealthiest 5 per cent of families in Ireland increased their share to nearly half of the country's wealth. However, in 2012, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported that there was an estimated 1 in every 11 of Irish children, living in consistent poverty - 107,000 was the precise figure. How can one small country accommodate such absurdities?

A child in consistent poverty is likely to be hungrier, colder, smaller and without many treats or surprises in his or her life. Poverty can prevent people from participating as equals in society, from feeling part of their community and from developing their skills and talents. This process is often called social exclusion.

For children growing up in poor families, poverty can mean not having the things their friends have, not being able to go on school trips, or having to get a part-time job to support the family. This can often lead to problems like bullying because poverty makes it harder to fit in.

"Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"

Poverty exists side by side with vulgar riches, wars, famines, inadequate food production policies. But surely if God's will was done on earth as it is in Heaven, then there would be no poverty or hunger of any kind. As Christians, have we wandered far from the path? Pope Francis has written in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid : “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 Jn 3:17). The Holy Father also reminds us of how bluntly the apostle James speaks of the cry of the oppressed: “The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (5:4).

All glory and honour are rightly God's at all times. Does our life mirror the glory of God or the glory of self? God sent his Son, to be brought up by and to live among the poor, as Pope Francis reminds us: "The Saviour was born in a manger, in the midst of animals, like children of poor families; he was presented at the Temple along with two turtledoves, the offering made by those who could not afford a lamb (cf. Lk 2:24; Lev 5:7); he was raised in a home of ordinary workers and worked with his own hands to earn his bread. When he began to preach the Kingdom, crowds of the dispossessed followed him, illustrating his words."

God's love does not abide in worldly possessions but in helping those in need. That is His message. The actions of so few can and do influence the lives of many.

This month, we pray:

For the conversion of the rich that they may not refuse help to a brother or a sister in need.

For starving children that they may have their daily bread

For governments to hear the cry of the poor, and to reduce inequality by writing laws for the benefit of the greater good rather than the benefit of the very few.