Pope Francis challenged Catholics to be a source of hope for those in poverty, especially in the face of divisions in wealth and a throw-away culture.
The Pope released Thursday his message for the third annual World Day of the Poor, which will take place Nov. 17.
In the June 13 text, he drew a comparison between the financial disparities of people the Old Testament and current social injustices. As present-day people are trapped in new forms of slavery, he said, it is the Catholic’s obligation not only to provide the poor with relief services, but with spiritual hope.
“‘The hope of the poor will not perish forever’ These words of the Psalm remain timely. They express a profound truth that faith impresses above all on the hearts of the poor, restoring lost hope in the face of injustice, sufferings and the uncertainties of life,” the pope said.
“I ask all Christian communities, and all those who feel impelled to offer hope and consolation to the poor, to help ensure that this World Day of the Poor will encourage more and more people to cooperate effectively so that no one will feel deprived of closeness and solidarity,” he added.
As during the time of the Psalms’ development, there is now economic prosperity, he said. But he added that financial success has also led to an inequitable distribution of wealth. There are a privileged few, he said, but there are also millions of people who are exploited.
He said this exploitation is a type of bondage and enforces new forms of slavery. He said this abuse can be recognized in the displaced immigrants compelled to leave their homes, orphans and women forced into human trafficking, and young adults barred from employment.
“As in a hunt, the poor are trapped, captured and enslaved. As a result, many of them become disheartened, hardened and anxious only to drop out of sight,” he said. “They become for all effects invisible and their voice is no longer heard or heeded in society. Men and women who are increasingly strangers amid our houses and outcasts in our neighborhoods.”
These struggles may seem hopeless, he said, but it is the vulnerable and poor who will bear witness to God’s faithfulness. He said, even if the poor are dismissed and turned away, it will not be like that forever.
“Scripture constantly speaks of God acting on behalf of the poor. He is the one who ‘hears their cry’ and ‘comes to their aid’; he ‘protects’ and ‘defends’ them; he ‘rescues’ and ‘saves’ them… Indeed, the poor will never find God indifferent or silent in the face of their plea.”
He said it is the obligation of the Christian to care for those who are vulnerable, because Christ identifies with those in poverty. He gave the example of Jean Vanier, a Canadian Catholic humanitarian who died last month. Vanier founded L’Arche, an international organization of communities dedicated to people with disabilities.
“God gave Jean Vanier the gift of devoting his entire life to our brothers and sisters with grave disabilities, people whom society often tends to exclude. He was one of those saints ‘next door’” he said.
“His witness changed the life of countless persons and helped the world to look differently at those less fortunate than ourselves. The cry of the poor was heard and produced an unwavering hope, creating visible and tangible signs of a concrete love that even today we can touch with our hands.”
In this culture of waste, he said it is difficult to spread Christian hope. Francis said charity must go beyond the distribution of physical necessities and it must become an authentic concern for the person, inspiring that individual to hope and compassion.
“The poor acquire genuine hope, not from seeing us gratified by giving them a few moments of our time, but from recognizing in our sacrifice an act of gratuitous love that seeks no reward,” he said.
This act of kindness requires consistent commitment and a joyful individual who will listen and identify the true needs of each person, he said. It may seem illogical to the world, but charity extends beyond statistics, he further added.
“I encourage you to seek, in every poor person whom you encounter, his or her true needs, not to stop at their most obvious material needs, but to discover their inner goodness, paying heed to their background and their way of expressing themselves, and in this way to initiate a true fraternal dialogue,” said Pope Francis.
“For once, let us set statistics aside: the poor are not statistics to cite when boasting of our works and projects. The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men women and children who look for a friendly word. The poor save us because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”