“If this is the case, when the cry of the poor rings out our reaction is incoherent and we are unable to empathize with their condition. We are so entrapped in a culture which obliges us to look in the mirror and to pamper ourselves that we believe that a gesture of altruism is sufficient without compromising ourselves directly.”
Pope Francis' message, titled “This poor man cried and the Lord heard him,” is based on Psalm 34 and was published June 14 in anticipation of the second World Day of the Poor, which he instituted at the close of the Jubilee of Mercy.
The event now takes place throughout the world on the 34th Sunday of ordinary time, which this year falls on Nov. 18.
In his message, Pope Francis said that when it comes to serving the poor, “the last thing we need is a battle for first place.”
Rather, one must humbly recognize that it is the Holy Spirit who inspires people to be a concrete sign of God's closeness, since he is the one who opens eyes and hearts to conversion.
The poor, he said, “have no need of protagonists, but of a love which knows how to hide and forget the good which it has done.” The true protagonists, he said, “are the Lord and the poor. He who desires to serve is an instrument in God’s hands in order to make manifest His presence and salvation.”
Pointing to St. Paul's affirmation in the First Letter to the Corinthians that “the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you,'” Francis said this phrase goes not only for the different charisms of the Church, but it also goes for the poor and vulnerable in society.
True disciples of Christ, then, must not harbor “sentiments of contempt or pietism towards the poor,” but instead are called “to honor them, giving them precedence, out of the conviction that they are a real presence of Jesus in our midst.”
Francis also highlighted three verbs used by King David, the author of psalm 34, which are “to cry,” “to answer” and “to free.”
Not only are Christians called to hear the cry of the poor, but they must also answer, he said, noting that God's answer to the poor is highlighted throughout salvation history.
“God’s answer to the poor is always an intervention of salvation in order to heal the wounds of body and soul, restore justice and assist in beginning anew to live life with dignity,” he said, adding that this response is also an appeal for believers to do the same.
The World Day of the Poor is “a small answer” which the entire Church gives to poor people throughout the world as a sign of solidarity and shared concern, he said, and stressed the importance of having a personal encounter with those in need.
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“It is not delegated power of which the poor have need, but the personal involvement of as many hear their cry,” he said, adding that “the concern of believers in their regards cannot be limited to a kind of assistance – as useful and as providential as this may be in the beginning – but requires a loving attentiveness which honours the person as such and seeks out his best interests.”
Pope Francis also spoke of the need to free the poor from the causes of poverty, which are frequently rooted in “selfishness, pride, greed and injustice.”
“These are evils as old as man himself, but also sins in which the innocents are caught up, leading to consequences on the social level which are dramatic,” he said.
To help migrants escape pride and injustice, then, means to free them from “the snare of the fowler” and to “subtract them from the trap hidden on their path, in order that they might proceed expeditiously and look serenely upon life.”
Like the poor blind man Bartimaeus from Mark's Gospel who was sitting on the side of the road begging when Jesus passed by, many poor people today are also sitting by the road waiting for someone to come and listen to their needs, Francis said.
“Unfortunately, often the opposite happens and the poor are reached by voices rebuking them and telling them to shut up and to put up.”