ROME – Pope Francis told a St. Peter’s Basilica full of marginalized, poor, homeless and needy people that when it comes to God’s love, everyone is a beggar. He also said that indifference is a “great sin,” decrying those who claim the poor are not their problem but society’s.
“In the poor, we find the presence of Jesus, who, though rich, became poor,” Francis said on Sunday. “In their weakness, a saving power is present. And if in the eyes of the world they have little value, they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our passport to paradise.”
The pope opened his homily saying that everyone is a beggar “when it comes to what is essential: God’s love, which gives meaning to our lives and a life without end.”
Francis’s words came as he was celebrating the first ever World Day of the Poor, an event he called for at the closing of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which ended last November.
According to the Vatican, over 6,000 poor people attended the papal Mass as special guests. While most of them live in Europe, migrants and refugees from all over the world were among the participants.
Young men who are either poor, migrants or homeless were among the altar servers, and the first reader at the Mass was Tony, a refugee from Syria.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of this Sunday, that presents a man who, before a journey, entrusted his possessions, “talents,” to his servants. Two of the three servants multiply the talents, while the one who received the least, afraid of the master, chose to bury his.
Francis told those present that everyone has talents. Hence, “no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others. We are chosen and blessed by God, who wants to fill us with his gifts, more than any father or mother does with their own children.
“And God, in whose eyes no child can be neglected, entrusts to each of us a mission,” he said.
The master in the parable defined the latter servant as “wicked and lazy.” What made him displeased? Francis asked. “To use a word that may sound a little old-fashioned but is still timely, I would say it was his omission.”
The evil of the servant, the pope said, “was that of failing to do good.” Many times “we have the idea” that not doing anything wrong is enough, “we rest content, presuming that we are good and just.”
But those who do so, risk acting like the servant, who did no wrong. He “didn’t waste the talent,” but not doing wrong is not enough.
Omission, Francis said, is also the “great sin” where the poor are concerned, but it has a name: “indifference,” thinking that the poor are “society’s problems.”
“It is when we turn away from a brother or sister in need, when we change channels as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil but do nothing about it,” the pope continued. “God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good.”
Being close to the poor, Francis said, is a reminder of what really counts: “to love God and our neighbor.” Everything else vanishes.
“Today we might ask ourselves: ‘What counts for me in life? Where am I making my investments?’ In fleeting riches, with which the world is never satisfied, or in the wealth bestowed by God, who gives eternal life?” he asked. “This is the choice before us: to live in order to gain things on earth, or to give things away in order to gain heaven.”
When it comes to heaven, the pope told those gathered, what each person owns doesn’t matter, but what each one gives is what counts.
Archbishop Salvatore “Rino” Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization and the man behind Sunday’s celebration, was tasked by Francis to promote the day, both in Rome and beyond the walls of the Eternal City.
“It’s a moment of feast and of responsibility for everybody,” he told Crux ahead of the Mass.
Fisichella also highlighted a prayer vigil he led on Saturday for all the volunteers, who regularly work with Rome’s homeless people, feeding the poor and caring for the infirm. It was for the latter that the Vatican put what the archbishop called a “field hospital” in St. Peter’s Square, with dozens of doctors and nurses who volunteered their time to treat the needy.
Among those attending the Mass was Etienne Villemain, of France, one of the founders of Fratello, a French association which organizes and hosts events with and for people in situations of exclusion in partnership with associations doing the same work.
Villemain opened the doors of his home to people living in the street in the early 2000s, and since then, many others have followed his example. Today, they offer a roof over the heads of 300 people across France, and they’re slowly expanding to other European countries.
In 2014, he led a pilgrimage of homeless people from France to Rome, at the end of which they met with Francis. “I told him, Holy Father, we need a World Day of the Poor, and he gave me a big smile,” Villemain told Crux.
A year later, he led a different group on a pilgrimage to Rome, and once again, he told Francis that he needed to institute such a day, to which the pope once again, answered with a smile. Last year, at the closing of the jubilee, the pope surprised the world when he instituted the World Day of the Poor, to be celebrated every year, on the Sunday before the solemnity of Christ the King.
During the last “main event” of the jubilee before it was closed, the pope said Mass for thousands of homeless, poor, and needy people, including 4,000 who came with Fratello.
“We lived beautiful days, with Confession, adoration, prayer,” Villemain said, urging the Church to open its doors to the poor, saying they cannot continue to live in the streets, “they must live in our hearts.
“The most important thing for us is Jesus,” he added. “In the poor, we find Jesus. We find Jesus in the Eucharist, and there, when we’re with Him, we have to say, ‘let me see you in the poor’.”
After the Mass, and the weekly Sunday Angelus prayer which he led for some 25,000-people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis hosted some 1,500 people for lunch, at the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, often used for the weekly public audiences.
The menu included pasta, veal with polenta, tiramisu and chocolates.
A few snapshots from the lunch for 1,500 people Pope Francis is hosting at the Vatican today, for the #WorldDayOfThePoor. Pasta, veal, polenta, tiramisu, Ferrero Rocher and Fanta, all part of the menu. pic.twitter.com/Ub9c9S0Ufn
— Ines San Martin (@inesanma) November 19, 2017