Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York, encouraged Catholics to exit their comfort zones as they reach out to the poor and needy in their midst.

The archbishop spoke November 12 at a virtual event ahead of the World Day of the Poor, which takes place November 15.

The event was sponsored by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the UN and America Media.

Speakers at the Nov. 12 event included ambassadors from Ireland and Lithuania to the United Nations, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, and Catholic Charities USA President Sister Donna Markham, among others.

During his opening remarks, Archbishop Caccia highlighted the theme of this year's event: "Stretch forth your hands to the poor." The archbishop recalled Michelangelo's famous depiction of the Creation of Adam on the vault of the Sistine Chapel. There, he said, God stretches his hand to offer Adam the gift of life.

"We imitate that life-giving, loving generosity of God every time we stretch our hands toward those in need, who are created in the image of God and in the image of Adam and Eve," he said.
"Stretching forth our hands begins not with our arms but with our eyes and our heart," he said. "Our hearts must be moved with compassion for those who are suffering."

He also pointed to Pope Francis' recent encyclical Fratelli tutti, which challenges Catholics to follow the example of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel parable. Caccia urged Catholics "to cross the road and draw near [to those in need], to allow ourselves to be inconvenienced, and to take personal responsibility for helping them get back on their feet."

Many people will simply walk past those who are suffering, indifferent to their pain, Caccia said. But Catholics should not wash their hands of responsibility, he added. Rather, they are to treat others as brothers and sisters, "extend[ing] both hands to pick others up."

Coronavirus restrictions have forced the Vatican to scale down this Sunday's commemoration of the World Day of the Poor, which would typically include a field hospital in St. Peter's Square and the lunch with 1,500 poor people together with Pope Francis.

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Caccia noted that human interactions, such as handshakes, have become limited during the pandemic. He pointed to generous work of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, clergy, volunteers, and neighbors.

"Pope Francis is summoning all of us to imitate that concern, courage and generosity," said the archbishop. "He's asking us to lift up our hands in prayer … And he is calling us to join our hands and work together."