World Day of the Poor

From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has implored us to go and share Christ’s love and hope with those on the margins of society, especially the poor.  Now, to promote this culture of encounter even more, the Holy Father has established a World Day of the Poor, the first of which is being observed tomorrow, November 19.  Appealing to people’s consciences, he encourages “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. . . . everyone, independent of religious affiliation, is invited to openness and sharing with the poor through concrete signs of solidarity and fraternity” (Message for the First World Day of the Poor).

Lifting up for us the example of Saint Francis of Assisi, the pontiff who took his name urges us to welcome the grace of God’s merciful charity into our hearts so as to shape our lives in the Christian imperative of love of God and love of neighbor.  In particular, Saint Francis recognized that it is not enough just to embrace lepers or give them alms – instead, the saint chose to stay with them and get to know and love them.

In the same way, Pope Francis tells us that thinking of the poor “simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience” is insufficient.  “We are called,” he says in his Message, “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.”

The Holy Father demonstrated that message of love during his pastoral visit to Washington in 2015 when, in addition to meeting the powerful in Congress and at the White House, he traveled to Saint Patrick’s Church to meet and pray with some of the poor helped by Catholic Charities, as well as with volunteers, staff members and benefactors.  Each year, this ministry of mercy of our archdiocese serves about 120,000 of our sisters and brothers in need, offering not only material assistance, but loving concern and the hope of knowing that someone is there for them.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving next week, when many of us will feast on more food than perhaps we should, Pope Francis reminds us that, having received God’s bounty, we cannot be indifferent to those in poverty whose faces are marked by hardship, suffering and the denial of human dignity. Instead, “we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization,” including welcoming them “as honored guests at our table,” praying together and sharing the Eucharist.

Each of us can do something.  Whatever we do for those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless or afflicted, we do for Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46).