Compassion for the Poor

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The United States has an estimated fifty million citizens in poverty, with a homeless population over five hundred thousand. These problems are not unique to the US or any country, with poverty, starvation, and poor living conditions existing worldwide. While some believe that the world is survival of the fittest and that we as a society do not need to help each other, many would agree that on some level we have an obligation to look after our fellow man. The catholic church agrees that we must have compassion for those below us, and is a strong leader in the fight against these issues. With these issues continuing to affect people every day, the church and its members are dedicated to showing compassion and doing whatever possible for those facing these problems, even if the action needed is not always clear.

Poverty is a problem that spans the entire globe. While most people immediately think of the starving children, deadly diseases, and poor living conditions common in third world countries, poverty expands elsewhere too. Canada, a usually thought to be well off country, still has seven and a half percent of their population in poverty, with over twelve percent in the US and over forty-five percent in Mexico, meaning over 98 million people in North America alone are living against the fight of poverty (Bramlett). This number fails to include the many families who sit just above the maximum income to be considered impoverished, or who are facing countless other life struggles leaving them feeling helpless. While societies have almost always had to work in attempts to keep most living well, modern-day has undoubtedly seen a spike, especially with correlation to wealth inequality in many first world countries such as the US.

Before we can begin to show compassion for the poor and vulnerable of our society, compassion must first be defined, along with the differences between compassion and mercy. When taking the literal translation of the original words in compassion, it means “to suffer with”, or to understand how somebody is feeling and feel it with them as best possible. Of course, just saying that you feel bad and understand it must suck does not actually solve any issues, which is where mercy comes in to play. Author Beth Haile says mercy is what we do when we see another in need, “to offer help, cancel debt, or not hold accountable.” Mercy can also come without compassion however, such as a judge giving a lighter sentence due to public pressure rather than feeling bad, to use Haile’s example. However, in this case of having compassion for the poor, the goal is to have compassion with mercy, that is to both understand and feel with those suffering, but also do what is in our power to assist them.

Pope Francis has made it abundantly clear that he believes in our obligation to help those around us in need. In early 2015, he made a trip across Africa throughout three countries to spread his word. While in Kenya he spoke on the need for compassion for the poor and redistribution of their resources (Riedl and McClendon). Although he knows what must be done, it is not as easy as say it and it will happen. Pope Francis said in Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”), “As the United States bishops have said […], greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests’” (Option for the Poor – Catholic Charities), showcasing that while we need to give more to those people, such discussions are usually overpowered by those with more power to get what they want, and sadly, usually with a different set of goals from helping those in need.

In addition to Pope Francis’ beliefs, the church seems to wholeheartedly back this up, with countless scripture and public declarations. As the USCCB points out, Leviticus 19:9-10 says, “ A portion of the harvest is set aside for the poor and the stranger,” and Sirach 4:1-10 with, “Don’t delay giving to those in need.” These quotes of scripture show the long-running support in helping. While many do everything they can to help, the USCCB also points out in Economic Justice for All that what is more important than what the rich and top of society want, is what the poor and vulnerable need, and that how the workers are living is more important than how much money is being made for profit. The Second Vatican Council also backs up these beliefs, saying that we as people must help those in need, and that doing so just because they have a surplus should not be the only reason. They also said that those in dire need are, “entitled to take what they need from the riches of others,” further showing the importance of making sure that everybody in our society is taken care of.

At the start of Catholicism, the life of Jesus set an example for how the followers should lead their lives as well. Jesus was known for being sympathetic and understanding of the poor, going as far as creating a fund with his apostles to be given to poor Israelites. His followers continued supporting their fellow humans, such as coordinating and sending relief services where needed during the Roman Empire’s famine in Emperor Claudius’ reign (Follow Jesus’ Example and Show Concern for the Poor.) The way that Jesus led his life helping others and insisting that we aid the less fortunate laid the road for the Catholic tradition and instilling these basic morals into the faith and its followers.

While the Church and its various leaders and members alike continue to agree and discuss the need for assisting the impoverished, they also make sure to act on their words rather than let them remain empty promises. For example, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development works hard attempting to combat the core problems causing poverty. Also a big player in the fight is Catholic Charities USA and globally the Catholic Relief Services, who help people in over ninety-three countries (Gehring). While these charities are constantly working to provide aid to as many as possible, it is not without its struggles. As Gehring reports, a very small group dedicated to workers rights lost out on a seventy-five thousand dollar grant that would have made an undeniable difference due to their affiliation with the nation’s civil rights group who also happens to support same-sex marriage, regardless of the fact it has no correlation to their work with the charity or the fact that that the charity themselves has no focus on such problems. Pope Francis is attempting to combat this, having said he wants, “a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Individuals of the faith also spend time attempting to do their part in helping, even if they may not have much to give. Some do what they can by giving old clothes or shoes, food, or monetary donations, while others who may not have materials to give instead offer their time. While there are countless ways to help, many who choose to give their time help at food banks or homeless shelters, handing out blankets during the cold weather or offering hot meals. My grandmother, Sue Millonig, regularly volunteers her time with St. Mary Catholic Church, which focuses on helping those who cannot help themselves. As she described to me, this includes helping the elderly who need assistance getting medication, affordable housing, and doing day-to-day activities that they can no longer carry out on their own or pay somebody to help with. While the help provided makes their lives remain functional, the personal connection and time spent with somebody who truly cares about you and your wellbeing is immeasurably heart-warming for these people. Additionally, this charity and many others also collects mainly shoes and other apparel to distribute to families who cannot afford them for their children approaching new school years.

While charities do everything they can with their resources to spread well-being, the issue of funding remains a prominent issue. With some using options such as donations, church collections, or private generosity, government funding remains a strong potential source of income. That comes with its own set of potential problems, such as if accepting state or federal funds implies approval of things such as foreign policy that may go against the church’s beliefs. Kenneth Hackett claims the issue is much more complex than that. In his case, he is arguing for such fund use in Catholic Relief Services, or CRS. As he claims in “Public Funds, Catholic Mercy: Fulfilling the Promise of the Church in the World,” the better question to be asking is who are we representing? While the answer seems clear, receiving government funds seems to muddy the waters, at least in the eyes of the public. This leaves CRS in a balancing act, looking upon the catholic morals and values when it comes to what funding they accept, and “that we keep our presence in a country grounded in the local reality.” (Hackett 65). They accomplish this with working with local churches, and employing locals in the area in the offices. As Hackett says, the danger of wealthy outsiders doing more good than bad is a very real one, and that is the reason they have worked tirelessly over their history of over fifty years in countries such as Pakistan to truly become a part of the local culture and communities. With these efforts and constant adaptation, they believe they are doing the best they can to make sure they can serve the best possible, all the while working on getting more money through private means to have less restrictions that come from government grants.

All in all, support for the poor and vulnerable in our society is something that is still in high demand both by those in need and our own morality. Pope Francis continues to spread the word of compassion and helping our fellow man, with the Church right behind him. While the efforts of the Church as a whole and locally do not come without their struggles, the faith brings us together and keeps the wheels moving on the fight against poverty. Between charities able to use funding, to those relying on volunteer work, everybody involved is far from giving up and dedicated to the cause. Though public funding and the various choices that charities make can cause hiccups and uncertainty, through careful choices and thoughtful decisions, these organizations do all in their power to help those in need day after day.

Works Cited

  1. Armstrong, Dave. “Catholic Compassion and Beggars on the Street.” Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, Patheos, 29 Mar. 2017, www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2016/01/catholic-compassion-beggars-on-the-street.html. 27 Oct. 2018
  2. Bramlett, Sam. “Inequality and the Causes of Poverty in North America.” BORGEN, 28 Feb. 2018, www.borgenmagazine.com/causes-of-poverty-in-north-america/. 6 Nov. 2018
  3. “Follow Jesus’ Example and Show Concern for the Poor.” Watchtower, wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/2006321. 11 Noc. 2018
  4. Gehring, John. “A Church for the Poor, Not a ‘Pure’ Church.” National Catholic Reporter, 27 Feb. 2015, www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/church-poor-not-pure-church. 29 Oct. 2018
  5. Hackett, Kenneth. “Public Funds, Catholic Mercy: Fulfilling the Promise of the Church in the World.” Religion and Charitable Activity: Plenary Assembly, Pontifical Council Cor Unum, November, 2003, Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2004, pp. 51–71.
  6. Haile, Beth. “Is There a Difference between Mercy and Compassion?” USCatholic, 4 May 2017, www.uscatholic.org/articles/201705/there-difference-between-mercy-and-compassion-30996. 2 Nov. 2018
  7. Millonig, Susan. Personal Interview. 30 Oct. 2018.
  8. “Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catholic-social-teaching/option-for-the-poor-and-vulnerable.cfm. 28 Oct. 2018
  9. “Option for the Poor – Catholic Charities.” Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, www.cctwincities.org/education-advocacy/catholic-social-teaching/notable-quotations/option-for-the-poor/. 28 Oct. 2018
  10. Riedl, Rachel Beatty, and Gwyneth McClendon. “As Pope Francis Calls for Compassion toward the Poor in Africa, What Are African Churches Doing?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Nov. 2015,

Cite this paper

Compassion for the Poor. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/compassion-for-the-poor/



How did Jesus show compassion to the poor?
Jesus showed compassion to the poor by always helping them and never turning them away.
How do you show compassion to the poor?
There are many ways to show compassion to the poor. One way is to donate money to charities that help the poor. Another way is to volunteer your time to help those in need.
What does the Bible say about compassion for the poor?
The Bible says that compassion for the poor is a virtue. It also says that God will reward those who are compassionate to the poor.
What God says about poverty?
The biblical root of jealousy is found in the story of Cain and Abel. Cain was jealous of Abel because God accepted Abel's offering but not Cain's.
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