His Holiness, Pope Francis has raised concern over plight of the masses toiling under excruciating economic condition worldwide, stressing that “whenever we encounter a poor person, we cannot look away, for that would prevent us from encountering the face of the Lord Jesus.” The Holy Father bemoaned the insensitivity to the needs of the poor expressing worry at the increasing urge of affluent lifestyle while cries of the poor are unheeded. Pope Francis raised this alarm in his message on World Day of the Poor, a day set aside by the Catholic Church to “reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel.” The papal message was published on June 13, 2023, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Patron of the Poor. His Holiness said, “A great river of poverty is traversing our cities and swelling to the point of overflowing; it seems to overwhelm us, so great are the needs of our brothers and sisters who plead for our help, support and solidarity. “For this reason, on the Sunday before the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe, we gather around his Table to receive from him once more the gift and strength to live lives of poverty and to serve the poor.” Pope Francis enjoined Christians to “acknowledge every poor person and every form of poverty, abandoning the indifference and the banal excuses we make to protect our illusory well-being.” He wrote, “Everyone is our neighbour. Regardless of the colour of their skin, their social standing, the place from which they came, if I myself am poor, I can recognise my brothers or sisters in need of my help.”
The theme for the World Day of the Poor coined from the Book of Tobit 4:7, reads thus: “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor.” The theme is Pope Francis’ clarion call to everyone to heed to Tobit’s counsel to his son, Tobias, “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor,” as well as collectively take up the task of alleviating poverty. The Bishop of Rome stated, “The parable of the Good Samaritan is not simply a story from the past; it continues to challenge each of us in the here and now of our daily lives. It is easy to delegate charity to others, yet the calling of every Christian is to become personally involved.” The Pontiff itemised a number of factors that prevent people from helping the poor. His message read in parts, “We are living in times that are not particularly sensitive to the needs of the poor. The pressure to adopt an affluent lifestyle increases, while the voices of those dwelling in poverty tend to go unheard. We are inclined to neglect anything that varies from the model of life set before the younger generation, those who are most vulnerable to the cultural changes now taking place. We disregard anything that is unpleasant or causes suffering, and exalt physical qualities as if they were the primary goal in life. “Virtual reality is overtaking real life, and increasingly the two worlds blend into one. The poor become a film clip that can affect us for a moment, yet when we encounter them in flesh and blood on our streets, we are annoyed and look the other way. Haste, by now the daily companion of our lives, prevents us from stopping to help care for others.” Pope Francis acknowledged those who have been inspired to help the poor and expressed gratitude to them.
His message read in parts, “Let us thank the Lord that so many men and women are devoted to caring for the poor and the excluded; they are persons of every age and social status who show understanding and readiness to assist the marginalised and those who suffer. “They are not superheroes but “next door neighbours”, ordinary people who quietly make themselves poor among the poor. “They do more than give alms: they listen, they engage, they try to understand and deal with difficult situations and their causes. They consider not only material but also spiritual needs; and they work for the integral promotion of individuals. “The Kingdom of God becomes present and visible in their generous and selfless service; like the seed that falls on good soil, it takes root in their lives and bears rich fruit. “Our gratitude to these many volunteers needs to find expression in prayer that their testimony will increasingly prove fruitful.” The Pope stressed that everyone has a right to life and right to be cared for. He recalled the statement of Pope Saint John XXIII on the sixtieth anniversary of the encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth.) “Every human being enjoys the right to life, to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services. In consequence, every individual has the right to be looked after in the event of ill health; disability stemming from work; widowhood and forced unemployment; as well as in other cases when, through no fault of his own, he or she is deprived of the means of livelihood.” He charged political leaders and legislators to employ a “serious and effective commitment” in serving the poor. While recognising the need to urge and pressure public institutions to serve common good and perform their duties, he applauded volunteers for serving the poor, noting “it is of no use to wait passively to receive everything “from on high.”
The Pope’s message read in part; “Those living in poverty must also be involved and accompanied in a process of change and responsibility. “In addition, we must once more acknowledge new forms of poverty, as well as those described earlier. I think in particular of peoples caught up in situations of war, and especially children deprived of the serene present and a dignified future. We should never grow accustomed to such situations. Let us persevere in every effort to foster peace as a gift of the risen Lord and the fruit of a commitment to justice and dialogue. “Nor can we ignore those forms of speculation in various sectors, which have led to dramatic price increases that further impoverish many families. Earnings are quickly spent, forcing sacrifices that compromise the dignity of every person. If a family has to choose between food for nourishment and medical care, then we need to pay attention to the voices of those who uphold the right to both goods in the name of the dignity of the human person.” His Holiness also pointed to the way poverty is exacerbated by inhumane working conditions, inadequate pay, the “scourge” of job insecurity and by workplace accidents resulting in death. In his words, “Then too how can we fail to note the ethical confusion present in the world of labour? The inhumane treatment meted out to many male and female labourers; inadequate pay for work done; the scourge of job insecurity; the excessive number of accident-related deaths, often the result of a mentality that chooses quick profit over a secure workplace… We are reminded of the insistence of Saint John Paul II that “the primary basis of the value of work is man himself… However true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place, work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work.” Young people, he recounted, are also afflicted by a cultural poverty that destroys their selfworth and leads to frustration and even suicide.
“This list, deeply troubling in itself, only partially accounts for the situations of poverty that are now part of our daily lives. I cannot fail to mention in particular an increasingly evident form of poverty that affects young people. How much frustration and how many suicides are being caused by the illusions created by a culture that leads young people to think that they are “losers”, “good for nothing.” Let us help them react to these malign influences and find ways to help them grow into self-assured and generous men and women,” Pope Francis wrote. He urged people not to fall into “rhetorical excess” or merely consider statistics when speaking of the poor, but to remember that “The poor are persons; they have faces, stories, hearts and souls. They are our brothers and sisters, with good points and bad, like all of us, and it is important to enter into a personal relation with each of them.” “Caring for the poor is more than simply a matter of a hasty hand-out,” Pope Francis stated, it calls for reestablishing the just interpersonal relationships that poverty harms.” “In this way, “not turning our face away from anyone who is poor” leads us to enjoy the benefits of mercy and charity that give meaning and value to our entire Christian life.” Calling for a care for the poor marked by “Gospel realism,” the pope invited Christians to discern the genuine needs of the poor rather than their own personal hopes and aspirations. “What the poor need is certainly our humanity, our hearts open to love,” he emphasised. On a final note the Pontiff said, “Let us never forget that “we are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” Faith teaches us that every poor person is a son or daughter of God and that Christ is present in them.”