How to win the war on poverty

Pope Benedict XVI dispatched a telegram to Barack Obama on the occasion of his inauguration as 44th U.S. president, expressing the pontiff's "cordial good wishes" and his appeal for an American society "marked by respect for the dignity, equality and rights of each of its members, especially the poor, the outcast and those who have no voice."

The reference to the "poor" includes the unborn. In his "state of the world" address early this year, before representatives of 177 countries, the pope noted that in speaking about poverty we must remember that "the poorest human beings are unborn children." He used exactly the same language the previous week in his message for the World Day of Peace, which focused on fighting poverty.

Poverty is a severe deprivation. We usually think of poverty in terms of lack of food, clothing and shelter. To be deprived of any of these constitutes a serious form of poverty. Benedict extends the notion of poverty to include those who are deprived of love, wantedness and, finally, life itself. In this fourth category are not only the unborn, but everyone else who suffers the same deprivations. The pope is being clear, consistent, coherent and inclusive when he prays that "all may share in the banquet of life which God wills to set for the whole human family."

Pope Benedict's repeated remarks about how the unborn who are slated for abortion are victims of poverty brings to mind the simple and straightforward words of Mother Teresa. "The most terrible poverty," she remarked, "is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved."

This form of poverty is spiritual and can be more unbearable than any of the material deprivations, significant as they are. Mother Teresa elaborates: "We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty."

Pope Benedict and Mother Teresa are reminding the world that the war on poverty cannot exclude the unborn and all others who suffer the spiritual poverty of being unloved and unwanted. Concern for these victims represents the very beginning of the war against poverty. The logical implication of this position is that unless we include those who are unwanted and unloved, we have not begun the fight against poverty. To use a baseball analogy, you cannot get home if you never get to first base.

The secular world gives a great deal of lip service to the notion of "inclusivity." This term, however, is nothing more than a buzzword if it does not mean what it signifies. And what it does signify, as it applies to the human family, is everyone, including the unborn.

It is an idle boast to speak of being "inclusive" when one is really being "exclusive." It is like having a bad insurance policy that, according to the fine print, excludes what it is expected to cover. Why, we may ask, has the war on poverty dragged on so miserably over all these centuries? And why does the wrong side of the battle seem to be consistently gaining ground?

Pope Benedict, Mother Teresa and countless others have given us the answer. It is because we have focused our energies on the periphery and have not started at the starting place. It is because we did not realize that being lonely, unwanted and unloved is the most dire form of poverty.

Donald DeMarco is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut.