Why has Pope Francis declared 2018 as ‘The Year of the Marginalised’? Perhaps it is to remind the world that while the rich and famous are the new icons, the millions of marginalised have become faceless and forgotten. It is a much needed wake-up call to make a 180 degree change in behaviour towards the marginalised. It is St. John Chrysostom who said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them from life. The goods we possess are not ours but theirs.”

Unlike the West, in India the marginalised constitute the majority. Again, most governments in those countries provide a safety net to the poor, which is not the case in India. The marginalised lack the basics – shelter, drinking water, electricity and nutrition. Nor do they have easy access to education or healthcare. In comparison, the upper class is a privileged lot who have benefitted the most from globalisation and the growth of the Indian economy.

The life and lifestyle of the upper class is heavily dependent on the services of the marginalised. Are they being treated with dignity? Are they paid fairly? The request by the maid for a day off or an increase in salary is not looked upon very favourably. Our lives would be seriously upset without maids, cooks, sweepers, drivers, watchmen, auto rickshaw drivers, fruit sellers – the list is long. Many of them are migrants to the city, living in a very adverse environment, which poses challenges to their daily existence.

At a parish meeting to discuss the marginalised Fr. Caesar said that Bishop Bosco Penha wanted no family in our parish to go hungry. Fr. Jerome of the Urban Community Development Centre, who looks after the welfare of the tribals who have migrated to Mumbai, said that the caregiving organisations, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Navjeet, Small Christian Communities, etc. should network with each other regularly to improve the quality of their lives.

Can a culture of indifference by the upper classes towards the marginalised be changed? Mr. Harsh Mander, a former I.A.S. officer who works in the slums of Delhi, has this to say, “What reply do you, as a parent, give your child when he asks you why a child in torn clothes has to beg on the streets?” If your answer is “Look Away”, you have sown the seeds of indifference in your child for a lifetime.

If we are to translate Pope Francis’ vision for the marginalised into action, we require to know their needs (admission to schools for their children, obtaining employment, dealing with drug addiction and alcoholism, etc.). We must make the maximum efforts to strengthen the caregiving organisations in our parish to meet these needs. From those who work in our homes and those we meet on the street, the marginalised should look upon us as friends in their search for a life of hope and dignity.

Mr. Ernest Fernandes