I am firmly convinced that poverty—this sub-human condition in which the majority of humanity lives today—is more than a social issue. Poverty poses a major challenge to every Christian conscience and therefore to theology as well.
People today often talk about contextual theologies but, in point of fact, theology has always been contextual. Some theologies, it is true, may be more conscious of and explicit about their contextuality, but all theological investigation is necessarily carried out within a specific historical context. When Augustine wrote The City of God, he was reflecting on what it meant for him and for his contemporaries to live the Gospel within a specific context of serious historical transformations.
Our context today is characterized by a glaring disparity between the rich and the poor. No serious Christian can quietly ignore this situation. It is no longer possible for someone to say, “Well, I didn’t know” about the suffering of the poor. Poverty has a visibility today that it did not have in the past. The faces of the poor must now be confronted. And we also understand the causes of poverty and the conditions that perpetuate it. There was a time when poverty was considered to be an unavoidable fate, but such a view is no longer possible or responsible. Now we know that poverty is not simply a misfortune; it is an injustice.
Of course, there always remains the practical question: what must we do in order to abolish poverty? Theology does not pretend to have all the technical solutions to poverty, but it reminds us never to forget the poor and also that God is at stake in our response to poverty. An active concern for the poor is not only an obligation for those who feel a political vocation; all Christians must take the Gospel message of justice and equality seriously. Christians cannot forgo their responsibility to say a prophetic word about unjust economic conditions. Pope John Paul II’s approach to the phenomenon of globalization is a good example. He constantly asks: “How is this going to affect the poor? Does it promote justice?”
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