ROME – According to Pope Francis, the fact that the poor are marginalized puts democracy in jeopardy.

He also says humanity should accept “with great humility” that it is incompetent when it comes to the poor, talking about them in the abstract, but not actually helping them.

“How can we give a tangible response to the millions of the poor who frequently encounter only indifference, if not resentment?” Francis asked in the yearly message for the World Day of the Poor, to be marked Nov. 14. “What path of justice must be followed so that social inequalities can be overcome and human dignity, so often trampled upon, can be restored?”

The Church-sponsored World Day of the Poor was instituted by Pope Francis in 2016 with the Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, which he issued at the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

This year’s message was released Monday at the Vatican with the theme taken from the Gospel of Mark: “The poor you will always have with you.”

Individualistic lifestyles, the pope wrote, are complicit in generating poverty, and often blame the poor for their condition.

“Yet poverty is not the result of fate; it is the result of selfishness,” Francis argued. “It is critical, therefore, to generate development processes in which the abilities of all are valued, so that complementarity of skills and diversity of roles can lead to a common resource of mutual participation.”

The pope said that among the rich too, there are forms of poverty that could be relieved with the riches of those who are materially poor. For this to happen, however, both would have to have an encounter.

“None are so poor that they cannot give something of themselves in mutual exchange,” Francis wrote, adding that those who are materially poor “cannot be only those who receive; they must be put in a position to give, because they know well how to respond with generosity.”

The pope also wrote that if the poor are marginalized, “as if they were to blame for their condition,” then the very concept of democracy is jeopardized and every social policy will prove bankrupt. Hence his call for humanity to confess, with “great humility” that “we are often incompetent when it comes to the poor,” talking about them in the abstract, with statistics, and fooled into thinking that “we can move people’s hearts by filming a documentary.”

“Poverty, on the contrary, should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a life of fulfilment according to the abilities of each person,” he wrote.

The passage of the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus defends a woman who poured precious ointment over his head is the source of this year’s theme for the World Day of the Poor.

The woman’s action, Francis wrote, gave rise to two different responses. The first one was “indignation,” from some of those present, including his disciples, as the ointment had a cost of an annual salary of a laborer at the time. Judas argued that it should have been sold and the money given to the poor.

“It was no accident that this harsh criticism came from the mouth of the traitor: It shows those who do not respect the poor betray Jesus’ teaching and cannot be his disciples,” the pope said.

The second response, Francis continued, is that of Jesus, who defended the action of the woman by telling those present to “let her alone” because “she has done a beautiful thing to me.” By accepting the gesture, Christ was reminding his followers that he is “the first poor, the poorest of the poor, because he represents all of them.”

“It was also for the sake of the poor, the lonely, the marginalized and the victims of discrimination, that the Son of God accepted the woman’s gesture,” the pope wrote, noting that the “nameless woman” was perhaps meant to represent “all those women who down the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moments of Christ’s life: His crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.”

Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, Francis wrote, have a leading role in the history of revelation.

Francis referred to the COVID-19 pandemic as the “scourge that multiplied the numbers of the poor.”

According to a January report of the World Bank, COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to push an additional 119 and 124 million people into extreme poverty, with the total rising to as many as 150 million by the end of 2021, depending on the severity of the economic contraction. Extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.90 a day, is believed to affect between 9.1 percent  and 9.4 percent of the world’s population.

“Some countries are suffering extremely severe consequences from the pandemic, so that the most vulnerable of their people lack basic necessities,” proven by the long lines in front of soup kitchens, seen all over the world. “There is a clear need to find the most suitable means of combating the virus at the global level without promoting partisan interests.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma