In the third of his series on the Decade of Evangelisation, Edmund Flood OSB asks what we can do to help the poor if we can see them
THE Good Samaritan in Jesus' story was admirable, of course. But a visit to Nottingham showed me that he had a considerable advantage. Unlike us, in many instances, he could actually see the fellow.
I was staying with a friend who had lived there almost all of her life. Since it was my first visit, she was driving me round the centre of the town. "Jane," I asked, "what proportion of the people here are poor?" Clearly non-plussed by this bizarre question, she answered hesitantly. "Poor people?" she said, "I don't think I have seen any."
Jane is kind, generous and a staunch Catholic. Before we laugh at her answer, should we ask ourselves whether you or I have seen, really seen, any inner city people? Perhaps ask those who have to raise their hands at the next parish meeting?
Of course some of us know at least something of these people's situation: the squalid houses, the fear of violence, the despair of ever getting a job, the deteriorating schools and medical provisions.
On the pain goes. from generation to generation. The greatest pain of all is that of hopelessness. The greatest damage is to family relationships, so that many see a stable family life as an ideal that is unrealisable.
Because the Samaritan saw, he acted. If we've seen, we too want to do something. But what can we do that would be of real help?
Some more affluent parishes twin with an inner-city parish and send gifts to families at Christmas. They may establish a link, but it hardly tackles the problems.
Another kind of help is that of showing personal solidarity with the people in the deprived areas. One of the trustees of the Anglican Faith in the City project has chosen this option by living in a deprived area.
Perhaps the most inspiring of all is the group of religious sisters who set up the Hope Community among the poor in Wolverhampton in 1985, "because we found (there) so many people who felt forgotten by society, by the Church, and some even by their own families. They were lonely, full of fear, isolated and with little hope for anything better in this life."
Of course people bruised and battered by all that need to feel that people care. But they also need to believe there's an end to that dark tunnel. What are we Christians doing about that?
"The problem with the Church, in this matter," a senior civil servani said to me, "is that it always wants to tackle this problem as a separate organisation." When we look at the reality, we see a basis for his objection. Given the size Of the job, government funds have to be a key factor.
Although the local community and the churches also need to be key factors, it's only when we start by recalling what has been the outcome of government intervention so far that we recognise the true nature and size of the task we have to tackle.