MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS, FIRST WORLD DAY OF THE POOR

Saturday, November 18, 2017

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
19 November 2017

Let
us love, not with words but with deeds
1. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn 3:18). These
words of the Apostle John voice an imperative that no Christian may disregard. The seriousness
with which the “beloved disciple” hands down Jesus’ command to our own day is made even
clearer by the contrast between the empty words so frequently on our lips and the concrete deeds
against which we are called to measure ourselves. Love has no alibi. Whenever we set out to
love as Jesus loved, we have to take the Lord as our example; especially when it comes to loving
the poor. The Son of God’s way of loving is well-known, and John spells it out clearly. It stands
on two pillars: God loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:10.19), and he loved us by giving completely of
himself, even to laying down his life (cf. 1 Jn 3:16).
Such love cannot go unanswered. Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it
so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and
sins. Yet this can only happen if we welcome God’s grace, his merciful charity, as fully as possible
into our
hearts, so that our will and even our emotions are drawn to love both God and neighbour.
In this way, the mercy that wells up – as it were – from the heart of the Trinity can shape our lives
and bring forth compassion and works of mercy for the benefit of our brothers and sisters in need.
2. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him” (Ps 34:6). The Church has always understood
the importance of this cry. We possess an outstanding testimony to this in the very first pages of
the Acts of the Apostles, where Peter asks that seven men, “full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (6:3),
be chosen for the ministry of caring for the poor. This is certainly one of the first signs of the
entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage: the service of the poor. The earliest
community realized that being a disciple of Jesus meant demonstrating fraternity and solidarity, in
obedience to the Master’s proclamation that the poor are blessed and heirs to the Kingdom of
heaven (cf. Mt 5:3).
“They sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).
In these words, we see clearly expressed the lively concern of the first Christians. The
evangelist
Luke, who more than any other speaks of mercy, does not exaggerate when he describes the
practice of sharing in the early community. On the contrary, his words are addressed to believers
in every generation, and thus also to us, in order to sustain our own witness and to encourage our
care for those most in need. The same message is conveyed with similar conviction by the
Apostle James. In his Letter, he spares no words: “Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God
chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he has
promised to those who love him? But you have
dishonoured the poor man. Is it not the rich who
oppress you, and drag you into court? ... What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has
faith but has not
works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and in lack
of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving
them the things needed for the body; what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has not
works, is
dead’ (2:5-6.14-17).
3. Yet there have been times when Christians have not fully heeded this appeal, and have
assumed a worldly way of thinking. Yet the Holy Spirit has not failed to call them to keep their
gaze fixed on what is essential. He has raised up men and women who, in a variety of ways, have
devoted their lives to the service of the poor. Over these two thousand years, how many pages of
history have been written by Christians who, in utter simplicity and humility, and with generous and
creative charity, have served their poorest brothers and sisters!
The most outstanding example is that of Francis of Assisi, followed by many other holy men and
women over the centuries. He was not satisfied to embrace lepers and give them
alms, but chose
to go to Gubbio to stay with them. He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion:
“When I was in my sins, it seemed a thing too bitter to look on lepers, and the Lord himself led
me
among them and I showed them mercy. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was
changed into sweetness of mind and body” (Text 1-3: FF 110). This testimony shows the
transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life.
We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of
impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts
may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause,
they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life. Our
prayer and our journey of discipleship and conversion find the confirmation of their evangelic
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authenticity in precisely such charity and sharing. This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of

soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ. If we truly wish to encounter
Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the
sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred
liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable
of our brothers and sisters. Saint John Chrysostom’s admonition remains ever timely: “If you want
to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ
with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and
nakedness” (Hom. in Matthaeum, 50.3: PG 58).
We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace
them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched
hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and
comforts, and to acknowledge the value
of poverty in itself.
4. Let us never forget that, for Christ’s disciples, poverty is above all a call to follow Jesus in his
own poverty. It means walking behind him and beside him, a journey that leads to the beatitude of
the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20). Poverty means having a humble heart that accepts
our creaturely limitations and sinfulness and thus enables us to overcome the temptation to feel
omnipotent and immortal. Poverty is an interior attitude that avoids
looking upon money, career
and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness. Poverty instead creates the
conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations,
with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace. Poverty, understood in this way, is the
yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are
neither selfish nor possessive (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 25-45).
Let us, then, take as our example Saint Francis and his witness of authentic poverty. Precisely
because he kept his gaze fixed on Christ, Francis was able to see and serve him in the poor. If we
want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor
and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization. At the same time, I ask the poor in our
cities and our communities not to lose the sense of evangelical poverty that is part of their daily
life.
5. We know how hard it is for our contemporary world to see poverty clearly for what it is. Yet in
myriad ways poverty challenges us daily, in faces marked by suffering, marginalization,
oppression, violence, torture and imprisonment, war, deprivation of freedom and dignity, ignorance
and illiteracy, medical emergencies and shortage of work, trafficking and slavery, exile, extreme
poverty and forced migration. Poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base
interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money. What a bitter and endless list we
would have to compile were we to add the poverty born of social injustice, moral degeneration, the
greed of a chosen few, and generalized indifference!
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Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged
few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there
is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with
this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned. There is a poverty that stifles the
spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work. There is a poverty
that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking
for favours. There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for
professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all
these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.
All the poor – as Blessed Paul VI loved to say – belong to the Church by “evangelical right”
(Address at the Opening of the Second Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, 29
September 1963), and require of us a fundamental option on their behalf. Blessed, therefore, are
the open hands that embrace the poor and help them: they are hands that bring hope. Blessed
are the hands that reach beyond every barrier of culture,
religion and nationality, and pour the
balm of consolation over the wounds of humanity. Blessed are the open hands that ask nothing in
exchange, with no “ifs” or “buts” or “maybes”: they are hands that call down God’s blessing upon
their brothers and sisters.
6. At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor,
so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an
ever greater sign of Christ’s
charity for the least and those most in need. To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors,
which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to
them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.
I invite the whole Church, and men and women of good will everywhere, to turn their gaze on this
day to all those who stretch out their hands and plead for our help and solidarity. They are our
brothers and sisters, created and loved by the one Heavenly Father. This Day is meant, above all,
to encourage believers to react against a culture of discard and
waste, and to embrace the culture
of encounter. At the same time, everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to
openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity. God
created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences,
betraying the original gift meant for all humanity, with none excluded.
7. It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19
November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort
to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance. They can
invite the poor and volunteers to take part together in the Eucharist on this Sunday, in such a way
that there be an even more authentic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Universal King, on the following Sunday. The kingship of Christ is most evident on Golgotha,
when the Innocent One, nailed to the cross, poor, naked and stripped of everything, incarnates
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and reveals the fullness of God’s love. Jesus’ complete abandonment to the Father expresses his
utter poverty and reveals the power of the Love that awakens him to new life on the day of the
Resurrection.
This Sunday, if there are poor people where we live who seek protection and assistance, let us
draw close to them: it will be a
favourable moment to encounter the God we seek. Following the
teaching of Scripture (cf. Gen 18:3-5; Heb 13:2), let us welcome them as
honoured guests at our
table; they can be teachers who help us live the faith more consistently. With their trust and
readiness to receive help, they show us in a quiet and often joyful way, how essential it is to live
simply and to abandon ourselves to God’s providence.
8. At the heart of all the many concrete initiatives carried out on this day should always be prayer.
Let us not forget that the Our Father is the prayer of the poor. Our asking for bread expresses our
entrustment to God for our basic needs in life. Everything that Jesus taught us in this prayer
expresses and brings together the cry of all who suffer from life’s uncertainties and the lack of
what they need. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he answered in the words
with which the poor speak to our one Father, in whom all acknowledge themselves as brothers
and sisters. The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is “ours”, and
that entails sharing,
participation and joint responsibility. In this prayer, all of us recognize our
need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance.
9. I ask my brother
Bishops, and all priests and deacons who by their vocation have the mission of
supporting the poor, together with all consecrated persons and all associations,
movements and
volunteers everywhere, to help make this World Day of the Poor a tradition that concretely
contributes to evangelization in today’s world.
This new World Day, therefore, should become a powerful appeal to our consciences as believers,
allowing us to grow in the conviction that sharing with the poor enables us to understand the
deepest truth of the Gospel. The poor are not a problem: they are a resource from which to draw
as we strive to accept and
practise in our lives the essence of the Gospel.
From the Vatican, 13 June 2017
Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua
Francis

 

 

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