Every Autumn, I receive multiple requests for help from families unable to cope with back-to-school expenses.

For more than 40 years, Christmas, school uniforms and First Communions put families living on the breadline into crisis. This year, it’s no different.

“I hate having to beg, but if you had anything spare in your charity, I would ask you to consider my request,” a mother of four wrote a few days ago.

“I normally can get by as I am thrifty and do not waste things. But this year everything is so costly that I had to go into debt, big time.

“You got me out of trouble a few years ago. I hope this is the last time I have to appeal to your charity.”

You can imagine how difficult it was for that single mother to ask for help. If I can, I help in a small way, allowing the person to retain their dignity.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left us three basic principles for Christian living: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere", "There is no wrong time to do the right thing", and "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter".

Down through the ages, the gap between the haves and the have-nots continued to widen. The rich get richer and the poor have ever greater problems to face.

Six years ago, an Oxfam Report told its own story. It said that the wealthiest 85 people in the world owned more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion.

Three years later, Oxfam reported that the figure now reads: 8 people control almost all the world’s riches.

At the current rate at which the bulk of the wealth being created in the world is transferred upwards to the wealthiest, at least one person will have $1 trillion by 2040.

Oxfam points out that you would need to spend $1 million every day for 2,738 years to use up $1 trillion. Mindboggling isn’t the word.

Meanwhile, according to UNICEF, 22,000 children worldwide die every day as a result of poverty-related illnesses.

The last figures I saw for Ireland indicate there are 12,000 people homeless – 3,500 of whom are children.

Fr. Peter McVerry, who has dedicated his long life to helping the homeless, warns: “Such injustice destroys the shared values that keep a society together, increases the righteous anger that ordinary people feel, threatens social stability, and increases crime.”

In other words, abject injustice leads to the collapse of society as we know it.

It establishes an unjust society which leads to further oppression for the poor.

Think about this: If a poor person robs a wealthy person, they are prosecuted and may well end up in prison; when a wealthy person robs a poor person – let’s say by evading taxes, which pay for essential health, education and Social Services on which the poor depend – they will rarely be prosecuted, and almost never end up in jail.

Where such inequality exists, there can be no lasting peace.

Another letter I received a few days ago left me with an uncomfortable conscience.

At the end of the letter, a mother, broken by poverty, concluded: “When you are in a poor area with no money, the future’s always in another place.”

There are other kinds of poverty which are equally damaging. The lack of opportunity because of where we live condemns generations to misery and underachievement.

We in Fermanagh know what it means to be treated like second-class citizens.

Sometimes though, we condemn ourselves to a hopeless future by refusing to change, reflect, and look at new ways of living.

Being born in a deprived environment should not mean we have to live and die there. We can educate ourselves out of our ghettoes – and that includes mental ghettoes.

We can always choose a better future by learning to accept change as part of life; don’t be bullied by any authority; self-respect means claiming justice for yourself.

Hell has been described as an eternity stuck where we are, without the possibility of change. Such hells need not be eternal.

Cardinal Newman said: “To grow is to change and to be perfect is to change often.”

He also said: “To be holy is not so much doing this and not doing that ... but is a state of mind of living habitually in the light of the world to come.”

The search for justice is lifelong.

You cannot argue with facts. One-third of deaths – some 18 million people a year – are directly caused by poverty.

An estimated 600 million children live in absolute poverty. Every year, more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases.

The income per person in the poorest countries in Africa has fallen by a quarter in the past 20 years.

More than half a million women die in pregnancy and childbirth every year – one death a minute.

International trade is worth almost £6m a minute, with 70 per cent of this controlled by multinational companies.

Most startling of all, the average cow in the European Union receives more than £1.40 a day in subsidies – more than the amount that half the world's poor people survive on.

As always, it is children who suffer most – one in six children in the world is starving!

One in seven has no health care at all. One in five has no safe water, and one in three has no toilet facilities at home.

Over 120 million children are shut out of primary schools, the majority of them girls.

1.2 million children are trafficked each year; 2 million children, mostly girls, are exploited in the sex industry.

Yet among the rich, obesity, not hunger, is the major killer. In America, they now talk about the dangers of ‘Affluenza’.

It means that too much food leads to obese children, a slave-like obsession with fashion brings anorexic teenagers, working irrationally longer hours just to have more money with a reputedly better quality of living, devastates family life.

Eventually, our willingness to build up unpayable debts destroys the economy.

When it comes to fighting poverty, I’m with Nelson Mandela: “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

It’s as simple as that!