ROME – In a message for the fourth Vatican-sponsored World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis said fears over the financial fallout of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic should prompt greater sympathy for the poor, insisting that no political or economic recovery is possible without stronger solidarity.
In the message, published and dated June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, the pope insisted that the pandemic has challenged the foundations of society, throwing countless individual people and families into insecurity.
“The loss of employment, and of opportunities to be close to our loved ones and our regular acquaintances, suddenly opened our eyes to horizons that we had long since taken for granted,” he said, insisting that “Our spiritual and material resources were called into question and we found ourselves experiencing fear.”
“In the silence of our homes, we rediscovered the importance of simplicity and of keeping our eyes fixed on the essentials. We came to realize how much we need a new sense of fraternity, for mutual help and esteem,” he said, insisting that, “until we revive our sense of responsibility for our neighbor and for every person, grave economic, financial and political crises will continue.”
Instituted as a result of the Jubilee for Mercy, the World Day for the Poor this year is set to take place Nov. 15, 2020, and is titled, “Stretch forth your hand to the poor,” from Chapter 6 of the biblical book of Sirach, in which the prophet encourages people to be patient in hardship and to trust in God, “since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.”
Stressing a connection between prayer and solidarity with the suffering of those who are needy, Francis said time set aside for prayer, “can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbors in need.”
“In fact the very opposite is true: the Lord’s blessing descends upon us and prayer attains its goal when accompanied by service to the poor,” he said, insisting that care for the needy should not be determined by factors such as, “the time available or by private interests, or by impersonal pastoral or social projects.”
“The power of God’s grace cannot be restrained by the selfish tendency to put ourselves always first,” he said. True care for the poor, he added, can only happen when people feel a sense of unease when someone else is “left behind and in the shadows.”
In the face of “hypocrisy and so many unfulfilled promises,” it is the duty of Christians to protect the poor and give them a voice, he said. While the Church has no comprehensive solution to the issue of poverty, Francis said it can respond with concrete acts of charity.
“How many outstretched hands do we see every day! Sadly, it is more and more the case that the frenetic pace of life sucks us into a whirlwind of indifference, to the point that we no longer know how to recognize the good silently being done each day and with great generosity all around us,” he said.
Often, he noted, it is only once something happens to upturn the normal rhythm of life that “our eyes become capable of seeing the goodness of the saints ‘next door,’ of those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence, but without fanfare.”
With tragic news filling headlines, television and the internet, it can seem that evil is winning, he said, insisting that despite appearances to the contrary, “this is not the case.”
“To be sure, malice and violence, abuse and corruption abound, but life is interwoven too with acts of respect and generosity that not only compensate for evil, but inspire us to take an extra step and fill our hearts with hope,” he said, pointing to the example set by doctors, nurses, volunteers, pharmacists, priests and security personnel during the coronavirus outbreak.
Pope Francis said this year’s message for the World Day of the Poor is a summons to responsibility and commitment for all men and women of goodwill. Serving the weakest and most vulnerable, he said, “is not an option, but rather a sign of the authenticity of the faith we profess.”
Pointing to the Biblical passage in Sirach from which the theme for this year’s message is taken, he said it challenges not only the average person to a deeper solidarity with the poor, but it also questions “the attitude of those who prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and to remain unmoved by situations of poverty in which they are often complicit.”
“Indifference and cynicism are their daily food,” he said, noting that these people stretch out their hands, it is not to help the poor, but “to touch computer keys to transfer sums of money from one part of the world to another, ensuring the wealth of an elite few and the dire poverty of millions and the ruin of entire nations.”
Francis, as he often does, criticized those getting rich from the arms trade, including those who sell weapons to children. He also admonished those profiting from drug trafficking, who “deal doses of death in dark alleys,” and those who take bribes in order to get ahead.
“Others still, parading a sham respectability, lay down laws which they themselves do not observe,” he said, insisting that in each of these cases, “the excluded are still waiting.”
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed,” he said. “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain.”
“We cannot be happy until these hands that sow death are transformed into instruments of justice and peace for the whole world,” he said, urging not only Christians, but humanity, to remember that each person ultimately faces the same destiny.
Remembering this, “can help lead to a life of concern for those poorer than ourselves or lacking the opportunities that were ours,” he said, adding that “the ‘end’ of all our actions can only be love. This is the ultimate goal of our journey, and nothing should distract us from it.”
“Even a smile that we can share with the poor is a source of love and a way of spreading love,” he said. “An outstretched hand, then, can always be enriched by the smile of those who quietly and unassumingly offer to help, inspired only by the joy of living as one of Christ’s disciples.”
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