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Covenant with the Poor

“Justice is an essential part of the Christian message and without it there can be no real faith"
(World Synod of Catholic Bishops 1971)

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 especially 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.

Renewing Our Covenant with the Poor

Today, we take time to renew our solemn covenant with the poor and commit ourselves:

  1. To pray every day for people who live on the margins of our society because they are disadvantaged;
  2. To raise our awareness of the causes of poverty and identify a Christ-like response to injustice;
  3. 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;
  4. To continue to proclaim the Good News through the apostolate of Caring Kitchen and the Society of St Vincent de Paul;
  5. To renew our promise to live simply by encouraging people to make the pledge to live simply;
  6. To highlight the parish’s Live Simply Action Plan and take positive action to meet the goals of the plan;
  7. To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the encyclical Laudato Si’ by holding an evening of prayer and reflection on the spirituality of St Francis;
  8. 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;
  9. 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."





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