If we knew how to listen to the poor they would tell us when our progress was a regression.

In November 2016, at the end of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis announced that from now on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the penultimate Sunday of the liturgical calendar, would be dedicated to the poorest people in the world.

Sunday Nov. 18 is the International Day of the Poor. This is not a celebration of poverty equated with that type misery that should be eradicated, but of poor women and men who cannot be eradicated, because they are people. Christ told us the poor will always be with us. But why?

We always imagine the poor trailing behind, at the back of the throng of humankind, unable to keep up with the rhythm of the world, able only to slow down progress. Yet the poor are not behind us, but in front of us.

In humanity’s war against itself, they on the front lines. They are the first to suffer the effects of global warming. It is their roof that is blown away when the hurricane strikes.

They were the first to pay when the American financial system played Russian roulette. It is their children that are sold when children become commodities.

Because they are on the front lines, the poor are also the ones to benefit from the true progress of humanity.

When vaccines become free, the most vulnerable are the ones who are saved. And when Jesus declared there were no slaves under God’s heaven, the slaves, not their masters, were the ones who knew something was happening.

Being at the vanguard of the world’s forward march, the poor are the signpost of humanity’s true progress. So it is not impatience that they should inspire among the bulk of the throng, but rather admiration for their patience in the face of their ability to put up with what is not so much progress as a forced march.

If we knew how to listen to the poor they would tell us when our progress was a regression. Through their lives, the poor are, grudgingly, our guides.

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