Five years on from the UN adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “the scourge of poverty continues to dominate the international scene and remains one of the greatest global challenges of our time”, the Holy See has warned.

– Number of poor around the world still “unacceptably high”

“Despite considerable progress” on the Sustainable Development Goals, “the number of people living in poverty across the globe continues to be unacceptably high and reminds us of the magnitude of the challenge still ahead”, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN in New York, Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, denounced in a UN meeting October 13 on the eradication of poverty and other development issues.

“The socio-economic impacts of the current pandemic make the situation even more urgent”, the Vatican nuncio warned, recalling that in June the World Bank predicted that COVID-19 “could push as many as 100 million people into extreme poverty within this year, leading, for the first time in decades, to an increase in the poverty rates globally”.

“More than 200 million people have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic”, Caccia highlighted, adding that “those who were already in vulnerable situations – including the unemployed, those in ‘informal’ or precarious employment, seasonal and migrant workers – are at risk of falling into poverty”.

“Job loss, lack of opportunities, and inadequate – if not inexistent – social protection are essential factors that contribute to poverty, greater inequality and exclusion”, the nuncio continued.

– Lack of education, access to medicines making the poor “even more invisible”

Along with the hit to the worldwide labour market, Caccia also lamented the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on access to education and likewise on what Pope Francis has denounced as “pharmaceutical poverty”.

“In many regions of the world, both in developed and in developing countries, the poor are often denied access to essential healthcare and medicines”, the Vatican diplomat decried.

He added – in an echo of Pope Francis’ September 25 video message to the UN – that “this tangible sign of the complete lack of protection that many of our brothers and sisters experience every day exacerbates the spiral of exclusion and inequality that goes hand-in-hand with poverty and makes the poor even more invisible”.

Quoting too from Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Poor coming up on November 15, Caccia said “poverty is about so much more than the amount of financial resources on which people rely for their survival”.

“It appears in a variety of guises and thus eliminating it requires an integral approach that unites monetary measures with comprehensive policies addressing the non-monetary deprivations that millions of people face at the educational, social, political, cultural and spiritual levels”, the nuncio emphasised.

– Doing away with inequality “requires more than economic growth”

As part of that “integral approach” to combating poverty, the nuncio called for development policies that “give priority to those most in need and foster an economy and a model of development where the human person, especially the poor, is at the centre”.

Quoting again from Pope Francis’ 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, the Vatican official insisted “the eradication of poverty requires more than economic growth. […] It requires decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality”.

Citing the pontiff’s message to the UN, Caccia stressed that “eradicating poverty means, first and foremost, enabling all men, women and children to be dignified agents of their own destiny and providing access to the conditions and resources that will allow them to develop their full potential”.

“Only through concrete measures that ensure the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, and the common good will the hundreds of millions who are still deprived of the bare necessities of life, including food, medical care and education, be lifted out of poverty and achieve integral human development”, the nuncio concluded.

More on Novena on the Church’s fight against poverty:

In new interview, Pope warns: “Indifference is the great evil that leads to a self-centred world”

Francis urges EU Bishops to “creative charity” to tackle “explosion of new forms of poverty”

Decrying “pharmaceutical poverty”, Pope pushes Big Pharma to “contribute to a more equitable distribution of medicines”

16/9: Pope warns in General Audience: “Those who live to exploit nature end up exploiting people”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.