"In this dual response for healing there is a choice that, according to the Gospel, cannot be lacking: the preferential option for the poor. And this is not a political option; nor is it an ideological option, a party option… no. The preferential option for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. And the first to do this was Jesus."
The pope cited a passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, read out before his address, which said that Jesus "became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
"Since He was rich, He made Himself poor to enrich us. He made Himself one of us and for this reason, at the center of the Gospel, there is this option, at the center of Jesus' proclamation," the pope said.
In a similar way, he noted, Jesus' followers are known by their closeness to the poor.
Referring to St. John Paul II's 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, he said: "Some mistakenly think that this preferential love for the poor is a task for the few, but in reality it is the mission of the Church as a whole, as St. John Paul II said."
Service of the poor should not be limited to material assistance, he explained.
"Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelized by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be 'infected' by their experience of salvation, by their wisdom and by their creativity. Sharing with the poor means mutual enrichment. And, if there are unhealthy social structures that prevent them from dreaming of the future, we must work together to heal them, to change them."
The pope noted that many people were looking forward to returning to normality following the coronavirus crisis.
"Certainly, but this 'normality' should not include social injustices and the degradation of the environment," he said.
"The pandemic is a crisis, and we do not emerge from a crisis the same as before: either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse. We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice and environmental damage. Today we have an opportunity to build something different."
He urged Catholics to help build an "economy of the integral development of the poor," which he defined as "an economy where people, and especially the poorest, are at the center."
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This new kind of economy, he said, would avoid "remedies that in fact poison society," such as the pursuit of profits without the creation of dignified jobs.
"This type of profit is dissociated from the real economy, that which should bring benefits to the common people, and in addition is at times indifferent to the damage inflicted to our common home," he said.
"The preferential option for the poor, this ethical-social need that comes from God's love, inspires us to conceive of and design an economy where people, and especially the poorest, are at the center."
After his address, the pope greeted Catholics belonging to different language groups who were following via livestream. The audience concluded with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing.
Concluding his reflection, Pope Francis said: "If the virus were to intensify again in a world that is unjust to the poor and vulnerable, then we must change this world. Following the example of Jesus, the doctor of integral divine love, that is, of physical, social and spiritual healing -- like the healing worked by Jesus -- we must act now, to heal the epidemics caused by small, invisible viruses, and to heal those caused by the great and visible social injustices."
"I propose that this be done by starting from the love of God, placing the peripheries at the center and the last in first place."