Highlights from Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Poor:
How many times do we see poor people rummaging through garbage bins to retrieve what others have discarded as superfluous, in the hope of finding something to live on or to wear! They themselves become part of a human garbage bin; they are treated as refuse, without the slightest sense of guilt on the part of those who are complicit in this scandal. Frequently judged parasites on society, the poor are not even forgiven their poverty. Judgment is always around the corner. They are not allowed to be timid or discouraged; they are seen as a threat or simply useless, simply because they are poor.
To make matters worse, they can see no end to the tunnel of extreme poverty. We have come to the point of devising a hostile architecture aimed at ridding the streets of their presence, the last places left to them. They roam from one end of the city to the other in the hope of getting a job, a home, a sign of affection… The least offer becomes a ray of light; yet even where justice might be expected to prevail, they meet with violence and abuse. Forced to work endless hours under a burning sun to gather seasonal fruits, they receive ridiculously low pay. They labour in unsafe and inhuman conditions that prevent them from feeling on a par with others. They lack unemployment compensation, benefits, or even provision for sickness.
The Psalmist describes with brutal realism the attitude of the rich who rob the poor: “They lie in wait that they may seize the poor… and drag them off in their net” (cf. Ps 10:9). 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. In a word, we see before us a multitude of poor people often maligned and barely tolerated. 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….
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. God is the one who renders justice and does not forget (cf. Ps 40:18; 70:6); he is their refuge and he never fails to come to their assistance (cf. Ps 10:14).
We can build any number of walls and close our doors in the vain effort to feel secure in our wealth, at the expense of those left outside. It will not be that way for ever. The “day of the Lord”, as described by the prophets (cf. Am 5:18; Is 2-5; Jl 1-3), will destroy the barriers created between nations and replace the arrogance of the few with the solidarity of many. The marginalization painfully experienced by millions of persons cannot go on for long. Their cry is growing louder and embraces the entire earth. In the words of Father Primo Mazzolari: “the poor are a constant protest against our injustices; the poor are a powder keg. If it is set on fire, the world will explode”….
Commitment to the promotion of the poor, including their social promotion, is not foreign to the proclamation of the Gospel. On the contrary, it manifests the realism of Christian faith and its historical validity. The love that gives life to faith in Jesus makes it impossible for his disciples to remain enclosed in a stifling individualism or withdrawn into small circles of spiritual intimacy, with no influence on social life (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 183)….
“The option for those who are least, those whom society discards” (Evangelii Gaudium, 195) is a priority that Christ’s followers are called to pursue, so as not to impugn the Church’s credibility but to give real hope to many of our vulnerable brothers and sisters….
It is not easy to be witnesses of Christian hope in the context of a consumerist culture, a culture of waste concerned only for the spread of a shallow and ephemeral wellbeing. A change of mentality is needed, in order to rediscover what is essential and to give substance and verve to the preaching of the kingdom of God….
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.