CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 April 2018

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Give to the poor

A couple of months ago, an immigrant family, including a year old girl, approached a shelter home in Hong Kong. They had lost their travel documents and had served jail terms for couple of weeks and were helpless in the city. A priest offered them shelter, but not long after they decided to leave because they couldn’t abide by the regulations at the shelter home and were back on the streets with their kid. 
 
Now the question before us was whether or not to help this family. The shelter still offered help but they were not happy and were unwilling to return. 
 
In a recent interview, Pope Francis, argued that people should not hesitate to give money directly to the poor. We had a number of questions: Why should we help them especially when they were unwilling to stay in a Church-run shelter? 
 
Almsgiving, donating money or goods to the poor, is a foundational and non-negotiable Christian obligation. Oftentimes we prefer organised almsgiving, whereby we give money to a particular organisation or charity dedicated to serving a particular need, such as Caritas or Catholic Social Services.
 
Individual almsgiving such as the pope is exhorting Christians to practice, is sometimes tougher because we are not certain whether the one who seeks help is genuine or not. 
 
There are many who argue not to give money directly to the poor, insisting that such a practice enables a few dishonest professional panhandlers and sustains a very unhealthy and degrading lifestyle. So we prefer to opt for a legitimate and structured means of helping the poor and needy. 
 
Yet there are important reasons to heed the pope’s call to give money freely to the poor. The most important is that giving money directly, if done correctly, makes possible an encounter between the giver and receiver of alms that organised almsgiving does not always allow for. 
 
This human encounter is a necessary prerequisite to solidarity, the recognition that we are indeed our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
 
In Pope Francis’ interview, he contended that it is not enough to “throw a few coins at the poor” and insisted that dignifying those in need by “looking at them in the eyes and touching their hands” are the true marks of Christian charity. 
 
The pope explained that we should greet those who beg with a “hello” and “how are you?” Some may think, “‘I give money and he just spends it on a glass of wine!’” Francis said.
 
But, he joked, a “glass of wine is his only happiness in life!”
 
It is easy to say, “See, that guy doesn’t even know how to use money responsibly. Why should I give him more?” This is, however, a hypocritical judgment that fails to acknowledge how often we, the comparatively wealthy, also squander our own funds on luxuries like a carton of cigarettes, a cup of iced coffee, a bottle of wine, a new pair of shoes.
 
This idea is not new to Christians. Jesus says “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:42). jose