In October while I was in the US I gave a presentation at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames on “Why are the people I work with in Honduras poor?”. That was the original title I had suggested, but as I began to prepare I realized that the title was wrong. It is better to ask why they are “impoverished.” Poverty is not so much a state as the result of a process of impoverishment. The impoverished are not poor by nature; conditions and structures have brought them to poverty.
This is an insight that is often hard to understand and to accept, since it asks questions about wealth, power, and privilege.
On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests and two women were killed on the grounds of the Central American University in San Salvador, El Salvador. They were killed because the Jesuits had been asking questions about wealth, power, privilege, and oppression.
One of the Jesuits killed, Father Juan Ramón Moreno, S.J., expressed this very clearly:
“Basically the poor are impoverished due to hoarding and exploitation by the rich; and the rich are enriched at the cost of the impoverishment and misery of the masses. To free the poor by giving them access to living conditions consonant with their dignity as human beings and children of God entails sacrificing the privileges of wealthy oppressors. Hence, when faced with the news that the Kingdom of God is coming, the rich feel challenged and called to accept God’s justice and kindness, by allowing themselves to be re-created and changed by that justice into brothers and sisters, and persons in solidarity. ‘Be converted and believe the good news’ (Mark 1:15). Only conversion, metanoia, change of mentality, new eyes in order to see reality with love in solidarity with which God sees it, can enable the approach of the Kingdom to ring out as good news in the ears of the rich — conversion to God who comes in gratuity and kindness to remake things, the God of the Kingdom.”