Catholic doctrine teaches that both poverty and wealth are means that can serve to reach our main goal, which is eternal salvation.
For this reason, the Church does not condemn being rich or poor. Instead, she criticizes people’s attachment to riches or their contempt for poverty, since these attitudes are at odds with the First Commandment: “Love the Lord thy God above all things.”
The Church also encourages the proper use of earthly goods to serve self and neighbor. Our Divine Savior teaches, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). Thus “all these things” (wealth, health, beauty, etc.) are good when sought while “seeking the Kingdom of God.”
That is why the Church has never promoted poverty as an ideal for everyone. On the contrary, she always considered poverty as an exceptional ideal reserved for the few called for greater perfection in the religious state.
Indeed, the Church elevates to the honor of the altar, both rich and poor, disregarding their material goods or the lack thereof.
Furthermore, the traditional doctrine of the Church calls upon all Catholics to seek the necessary means for their subsistence by using their ingenuity and willpower.
This obligation and possibility are not limited to subsistence. Every person, according to his or her capacity, should use honest means to legitimately seek self-sufficiency, comfort and even luxury when ordered toward holiness, our ultimate end.
The Church, as a Mother and Teacher, provides an admirable example of these truths with Her own existence. She has splendid cathedrals, sumptuous abbeys and magnificent vestments for celebrating the liturgy. At the same time, the Church praises the ideal of poverty and total renunciation of earthly goods for those wishing to practice it voluntarily.
Those who choose the ideal of poverty are not promoting a “pauperist” ideal of life. On the contrary, everyone knows how these religious men and women professing poverty in convents and monasteries produce many of the most exquisite liquors such as Bénédictine, special beers and famous cheeses.
A reader might think that recalling these obvious truths is a waste of time since all Catholics know them.
Unfortunately, that is not true. Theologians billeted inside the Church under the false name of “progressives” deny these truths, which until recently were obvious and beyond discussion. They argue that poverty is the ideal that all society must practice as if it were a Gospel beatitude.
Curiously, these “progressives” oppose any material progress. They see any scientific advance as an attack on the original ideal of poverty. Accordingly, they preach a return to the primitive life of the most backward peoples.
This preaching has infected the editors of the Amazon Synod’s working document known as the Instrumentum Laboris. The authors point to the uncivilized indigenous lifestyle as an ideal to be imitated by all Catholics. They want what they call the “Amazonization of the Church.”
Faced with this preaching, which many non-progressive churchmen consider utopian and romantic, we should study the lifestyle, life expectancy, and deficiencies that Amazonian peoples suffer. In this way, we counter the theologians who propose this ideal for everyone.
Consider the UN report titled “State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples,” produced by the Secretariat of its Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and disseminated simultaneously in Rio de Janeiro, New York, Brussels, Canberra, Manila, Mexico, Moscow, Pretoria, and Bogotá in January 2010.
A High Percentage of Extreme Poverty
According to the UN report, “indigenous peoples…make up about one-third of the world’s 900 million extremely poor rural people.”
The same document points out that in the Latin American region, indigenous poverty rates are always higher than those of the rest of society: “in Paraguay, [it] is 7.9 times higher… In Panama…5.9 times higher, in Mexico 3.3 times higher, and in Guatemala…2.8 times higher.”
In Brazil, “about 285,000 (38%) of the 750,000 Indigenous – 2000 Census figures – live in extreme poverty.”
The same report states that the life expectancy rates among members of indigenous peoples living in extreme poverty are substantially lower than in non-indigenous populations: Indigenous peoples live less than the average population. Australia: 20 years younger; Nepal: 20 years younger; Guatemala: 13 years younger; New Zealand: 11 years younger; Panama: 10 years less; Canada: 7 years younger, and Mexico: 6 years less.
The study also notes that infant mortality is 70% higher in the indigenous communities of Latin American countries compared to the rest of the population in these countries.
Malnutrition is another obstacle highlighted in the document. It is twice as common in indigenous children as in non-indigenous children. In Honduras, “95 per cent of indigenous children under age 14 suffer from malnutrition.” The study shows that “indigenous peoples experience disproportionately high levels of maternal and infant mortality, malnutrition, cardiovascular illnesses, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.”
The UN reveals that between 2000 and 2005, “the suicide rate among Guaraní [Indians] was 19 times higher during this time period than the national rate in Brazil.”
Other sad conditions affect the indigenous peoples such as illiteracy, a lack of minimum hygiene, complete absence of medical care, etc. that come from their primitivism that does not change over time.
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Given this undeniable reality, how can indigenist neo-missionaries present this situation of misery as an ideal for all nations to practice? How can the Instrumentum Laboris present poverty in the places of these suffering peoples as a “theological place” and the height of a new “revelation?”
This is why the great experts in the situation of Amazonian peoples are speaking out. For example, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino states: “I am surprised by the optimistic vision and almost utopian appreciation with which the first part of the text [of the Instrumentum Laboris] presents the indigenous population of the Amazon.” “[This] idealistic anthropology of ‘native peoples’ is a far cry from Catholic anthropology.”
Thus, Catholics must reject the utopias of ecclesiastics who promote poverty and misery as an ideal for all. This is especially true when the opinions come from one of the world’s wealthiest churches: the Catholic Church in Germany.
It is easy to preach poverty when living in wealth.