by the Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
Consideration of poverty in Catholic social teaching begins with the foundation that each person is both sacred and social, created in God’s image, and destined to share in the goods of the earth as part of a community of justice and mercy. From the time of the Deuteronomic laws, the covenant, and the prophets, there was special mention of the poor and their privileged place in the community. The Hebrew word for the poor is the anawim, the little ones, originally those “overwhelmed by want.”1 In the Old Testament, this group was primarily widows, orphans, and strangers (refugees, migrants, immigrants). They are poor and powerless. Their poverty was often the result of unjust oppression. As such, they comprised “Yahweh’s poor.”
The Lord frequently warned the Israelites about their duty to the poor: You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan (Exod 22:20-22). Their special status reflected a combination of powerlessness, poverty, and systemic exclusion from the community.
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