Switzerland, France, Portugal

Switzerland: “Combating poverty and not the poor”  “In a country that has more millionaires than welfare recipients, it is unacceptable that the poor bear the burden of a fallacious tax policy. The absurd tax competition between Swiss Cantons and municipalities aimed at attracting super-rich taxpayers negatively impacts the competition to fend off welfare recipients.” The statement is contained in a declaration titled “Fighting poverty not the poor”, released a few days ago by Swiss associations in the field of social assistance and trade unions of Christian inspiration (such as Caritas Switzerland).  The reference is to the political and media attacks of the past months against minimum subsistence and social assistance. In Switzerland, in 2012, over 250 thousand people resorted to social assistance, for the most part children, says the document, many of whom are “working poor”, that is, workers with very low incomes. The Swiss Constitution guarantees the right to be helped and assisted in case of difficulty, but it’s the responsibility of the Cantons to regulate modes and measures. Hence the complaint: “We are witnessing in the Cantons several attempts and proposals to cut social benefits through various mechanisms” to remedy the “dismantling of the fiscal system practiced for years, that has put many cantons in financial difficulties.” For the signatories of the document the commitment has to be targeted at a set of objectives including: “minimum subsistence income; fairer distribution of welfare costs between municipalities and cantons; the maintenance and consolidation of social insurance benefits (unemployment, disability), but also “facilitating access to training among the recipients “. As well as “a diversified and accessible labour market with decent wages and jobs for victims of a difficult living situation”; Finally, “to bridge the gap between the rich and poor.”France: towards Christmas, faith in the streets of Paris A veritable “urban mission of the people” was undertaken in the French capital in the time of Advent, motivated by the fact that “the Catholics in Paris want to share the joy of the birth of Jesus” and “allow everyone to rediscover Christmas” (www.paris.catholique. fr). The French diocese has promoted various initiatives that include, for example, a contest of Nativity scenes for shops in the neighbourhood of the parish of Notre-Dame de Nazareth. In St. Augustine, every weekend, in front of the church, Christmas carols are chanted accompanied by warm drinks. The cultural program is enriched with concerts and exhibitions. But it is “on the sidewalks” that most of the initiatives have taken place. On the external wall of Saint-Christophe de Javel was screened the advent calendar: every day a short cartoon and passages from the Scripture. Young people in Saint-Jean-Baptiste animated a flash-mob at the exit of subway Pasteur; live nativity scenes and religious representations were staged in the streets. A big effort has been dedicated to raising awareness on the poor: parishes have organized Christmas dinners, “because no one should be left alone.”Portugal: bishops’ messages for festivities  Through their messages of good wishes, delivered during and at the end of Advent, the Portuguese bishops urged all Catholics to “live the true spirit of Christmas, without being lured into artificial habits.” Msgr. António Moiteiro, Bishop of Aveiro, has challenged the Christian faithful, so that in this period “the image of simplicity given by Jesus in his earthly life is reflected in humility, in the reception of God, along with generous and free love for others. “Speaking directly to the families, expressed the hope that they be inspired by the model of the family of Nazareth, that “fathers and mothers may understand the value of love and beauty of a life open to others, in a spirit of reciprocity.” The Bishop of Viana do Castelo, Msgr. Anacleto Oliveira, has announced that he will spend Christmas Eve with the lonely, homeless and poor of the city, attending the dinner organized by the Social Centre and parish of Our Lady of Fatima,  to “give a new soul to most disadvantaged men and women.” Similarly, presiding over the first of the nine traditional “Masses of the Birth”, celebrated in the island of Madeira in preparation for the birth of Jesus, Msgr. António Carrilho, Bishop of Funchal, exhorted the faithful to seek “a time of the encounter, especially with those who now live moments of pain and suffering at social and private level”, while the bishop of the diocese of Lamego, Msgr. António Couto, asked everyone’s help so that “the family of God may be built with more love, with no exception.” Finally, the archbishop of Braga, Msgr. Jorge Ortiga, recalled the need for coherence and correspondence between words and deeds of modern society: “In this Christmas season, I would like to see that the statements by political leaders are not merely stuttering sounds without any real correspondence, just as it would be nice if the mass media did not give in to material interests, but opted consistently in favour of the social and economic truth.”

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