ROME – As the Church prepares to celebrate the first-ever World Day of the Poor, one of the Vatican officials organizing the event has said it is an opportunity not only to grow in mercy and charity toward the poor and needy, but to shape our attitude toward them on a daily basis.
The World Day of the Poor, which was announced in Pope Francis’s closing letter for the Jubilee of Mercy, is founded on “this whole notion of reciprocity, of sharing with each other of what each other has,” Monsignor Geno Sylva told CNA in an interview.
It’s also based on “our understanding that each of us is poor in some way, and that we need to empty ourselves of certain things so that God’s grace can fill us, God’s mercy can fill us,” he said, adding that “there’s so much we can learn from those who are poor as we try to provide.”
An English-language official of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Sylva spoke ahead of the first-ever World Day of the Poor, which is titled “Love not in word, but in deed,” and is set to take place Nov. 19, exactly one year after the close of the Jubilee of Mercy.
The event, Sylva said, is “so beautiful and so powerful as a perpetual fruit of the jubilee of mercy.”
And the main idea behind it “ties perfectly in with the New Evangelization,” he said, “because the New Evangelization is able to engage people by presenting the mercy of God and seeing people in that mercy.”
Francis announced the World Day for the Poor in his concluding message for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He said he wanted it to be celebrated annually on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Solemnity of Christ the King, as “yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year.”
“This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy,” Francis said, adding that the event would also “represent a genuine form of new evangelization which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”
Festivities for the event are set to begin with a Nov. 18 prayer vigil and Vespers for all those who volunteer in various organizations or associations that care for the poor.
The vigil, which will be presided over by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Council for the New Evangelization, will be held at the Roman basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, a venue Sylva said was symbolically chosen in honor of the saint who told the emperor of his time that “the treasure of the Church are the poor.”
The following morning, poor and needy individuals from around the Rome and Lazio regions will be bused into the Vatican for Mass with the pope in St. Peter’s Basilica, and will be offered lunch afterward in different locations around Rome, including the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
“In addition, the council has also arranged for Italian doctors, nurses and specialists from varying practices to provide free medical care to the poor and needy attending the World Day of the Poor. They will set up tents and offer free services to attendees the week prior.”
According to Sylva, the council is expecting around 3,000 people to participate in the event. However, since not everyone will be able to fit in the Vatican’s hall, other organizations and institutions have offered to host groups of the poor for lunch, such as the Pontifical North American College, which will serve around 200 people.
Although the menu has yet to be finalized, Sylva said it will be “a celebratory lunch” prepared by an Italian catering company and complete with a first course, second course and dessert. Flowers will be placed on all the tables, and a group of children will come into the Paul VI Hall to sing, while a band plays outside.
The meal, Syvla said, is meant to be a means of letting those who attend know “that they are really special, and that we’re honored to be with them.”
In addition to volunteers from various organizations and associations that work with the poor and needy, those serving lunch will include a group of permanent deacons from Rome, which Sylva said is a “very symbolic” gesture.
Rather than being just a local event in Rome, the World Day of the Poor is meant to follow the same line as the Jubilee of Mercy and be celebrated in various dioceses and parishes around the world, Sylva said.
To this end, he said the council has developed a pastoral aid for parishes and schools that is available for download free of charge on the council’s website, and which has already been given to various bishops’ conferences and nunciatures around the world.
Available in seven languages, the aid includes, among other things, prayer vigils, lectio divina prayers and the stories of saints associated with the poor, “so it really will give priests and laypeople involved with leadership a concrete pastoral resource they can use with the people to whom they minister.”
Pointing to the logo for World Day of the Poor, Sylva said the essence of the event can be summed up in the design, which portrays two people reaching toward each other – one from a doorway and the other from the outside – with a road in between.
“It’s so beautiful because you almost don’t know who’s the one asking for assistance and who’s the one giving assistance, but what we see is that this reciprocity, this shared essence in being in that the one on the outside realizes that to get in, he’s got to hold that hand out, and the one on the inside realizes that he or she has to go out in order to encounter one another,” he said.
The image, he said, is perfect since “everybody has something to share, everybody has something to give, and everybody is poor in some way.
“So how do we, hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart, reach out to one another, and again to not only welcome each other into the doorway of the Church, into the heart of each believer, but also along that road in which we also accompany each other closer toward heaven?”
Pointing to Francis’s message for the World Day of the Poor, published in June, Sylva noted how the pope had said that care for the poor shouldn’t be limited to occasional offerings that appease our consciences, but that rather, it must be a true encounter that shapes our daily lives.
As Christians, we are called to love everyone simply because “he or she has a need,” he said, explaining that the World Day of the Poor event “expands the notion of what neighbor means also to the person in need.
“It’s not just for one day to put a coin in, but it’s an attitude towards the other that needs to change in each one of us, that we need to see each other as brothers and sisters, and that’s the real profundity of what our experience can be.”