Challenging a modern culture which supports isolation and an indifference to poverty requires a personal connection with others, particularly the poor, as children of God, development expert Dr. Jonathan Reyes has said. Reyes, who is executive director of the justice, peace, and human development department of the U.S. bishops' conference, explained April 8 that Pope Francis' statements on poverty and charity reveal a concern that “there's something about the modern age that isolates people, is indifferent to human beings, that sets them aside.” To counter this indifference, particularly to the poor, “we simply have to make time in our lives for the priority of encountering the poor,” and be “always committed to seeing the other person in the way they were made.” Reyes, who was previously president of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver and co-founder of the Augustine Institute, was speaking at a Theology on Tap in Washington, D.C. Pope Francis' writings and speeches about poverty and charity have focused on the modern world's “culture of indifference” and the Christian call to respond by creating a culture of “encuentro” — or deep personal encounter — and of missionary discipleship, Reyes said. These means of evangelization “are part of a mission for those that are forgotten,” he added. Speaking to the bishops of Brazil at World Youth Day, Pope Francis explained that while globalization has connected people from across the world to one another, it has also led to a “loss of a sense of life's meaning, inability to love” and a “culture fundamentally of indifference, a culture that isolates people and leaves them alone.” Reyes added that he himself had seen this indifference in his own life experiences. While living in Caracas, for example, he was shocked to learned that the families living in the shanty-towns on the hillsides above the city got their electricity by climbing up electrical poles and attaching wires from the main poles to their houses. While many people died in the process, and the dangerous practice was common knowledge among locals, no one intervened to help the poor from dying. He continued, saying this sort of indifference to the plight of the poor and the lonely is common throughout the world, including in the West, and that “some of the most isolating environments in the world are major cities.” Reyes added that recent Popes, as well as Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, have all commented that “the greatest poverty is isolation: the feeling of being unloved and unwanted,” and that instead of reaching out to those in need, “culturally we put people who are different or have problems — we put them away,” especially if there are the funds to do so. Pope Francis has repeatedly spoken out on this “culture that discards people” and treats interactions as a form of “transaction,” Reyes said, adding that the Pope has explained how “we fix this by creating a culture of encuentro.” “When you have an encuentro, you engage someone on the level of their humanity. This theme is essential what it means to be a Church.” Pope Francis explains that if one gives to the poor without reaching out to them, or asking them their name, “then you have not encountered them.” “All you've done is tossed them some charity.” The Pope, he said, is very direct in talking about Christians' need to care for the poor. “He says you cannot say you don't have enough time,” adding that “none of you can say you're too busy” to care for the poor. In addition, Reyes, continued, “the Bible is pretty clear: how you treat the least of these is how you treat me.” Reaching out to the poor and the lonely, though, “does not take time, it takes attention.” He said that to engage in an encounter with other persons, it is important to remember that “every human being was made for a greatness that surpasses anything that you can accomplish in this life” — that they have immortal souls and are made in the image and likeness of God. Reyes encouraged people “to take care of our own encuentro,” explaining that “to be people who are capable of encounter, we need to encounter Christ”; both in the sacraments and “in the particular disguise, the distressing disguise, of the poor.” People should also lessen their attachment to “the type of stuff that would enthrall us” in order to follow Christ: “we need to live simpler lives.” While one should be thankful for their blessings, “we ourselves need to be free from the very things that attract us,” Reyes added. Most importantly, he said, Christians should aim to live lives of service that fulfills the greatness God intends for his people. “If you don't donate your life, you haven't achieved the greatness that God has given.”
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