On our paths to becoming true disciples of Christ, we find confirmation of our evangelical authenticity in the charity and sharing stemming from a real encounter, he said. “This way of life gives rise to joy and peace of soul, because we touch with our own hands the flesh of Christ.”
Pope Francis established the World Day of the Poor in his apostolic letter, “Misericordia et misera,” presented Nov. 20, 2016 at the end of the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy.
To be celebrated on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – this year falling on Nov. 19 – the idea came about, he explained, during the Jubilee for Socially Excluded People, highlighting in particular the homeless, which took place at the Vatican near the end of the Jubilee.
“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,” the Pope explained in the message.
Pope Francis himself will celebrate Mass on Sunday, Nov. 19 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Archbishop Rino Fisichella told journalists at a press conference on the Pope’s message June 13.
Afterward, there will be a lunch for the poor, serving around 500, in the Pope Paul VI hall.
The theme for the World Day of the Poor, which includes a special logo depicting an open door, and one person welcoming another inside, is “Let us love, not with words but with deeds.”
Words alone aren’t enough, the Pope pointed out in his message, illustrating the point with the words of St. James in his epistle.
St. James writes, “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.”
Quoting St. John Chrysostom, as well, Francis continued, “If you want to honor the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”
“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.”
The Pope said he wanted to add this day to the already established ‘world days,’ because it adds an “exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.”
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This day is meant to encourage all believers, regardless of religious affiliation, to react against a culture of discard and waste, and instead embrace a culture of encounter, which shares 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,” he lamented.
But though as Christians we have often failed in our duty to the poor, throughout history, the Holy Spirit has raised up holy men and women who have truly lived this out, setting an example for us all.
St. Francis, for example, is an excellent witness of how to serve the poor authentically, he explained. It was because the saint kept his eyes fixed firmly on Christ first that he was able to see Christ also in the poor and vulnerable, he said.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The poor are not just a chance to serve Christ, however, he said. They also offer us an opportunity to step outside of our places of comfort and certainty and acknowledge the counter-cultural view that poverty has a value even in itself.