This Sunday has been designated by Pope Francis as the First World Day of the Poor. His distinct concern for the poor and marginalised has attracted the attention of people far beyond the Catholic Church. He has asked all Christians to refresh our understanding of the nature of poverty and our responsibilities. It is too easy to regard the poor as being far away and in need of material support alone.
While individual acts of generosity and service are always meaningful as expressions of Christian charity, each person is called to exercise a deeper and more personal commitment to the relief of poverty in all forms. Pope Francis identifies all who have become marginalised in society as suffering from poverty – the homeless, the addict, the refugee. Poverty can be found in lack of opportunity or in isolation and unjust discrimination. The elderly and infirm may be numbered among the poor when they are particularly in need of our care and compassion.
Pope Francis writes: “We are called to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty itself.”
The poor are not merely recipients of generosity or a problem to be solved, but a route towards our own salvation. This will often demand a new relationship with the poor, a re-assessment of our capacity to respond to the challenges facing us all, not least in challenging the structures of injustice which so often dispossess people of rights and responsibilities. Our Archdiocese has a proud record of work with the poor through bodies such as the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and so many others who reach out to their neighbour. Representatives from each deanery will meet at The Cornerstone this afternoon to explore what action might be initiated throughout the Diocese as a result of this special day. Hopefully, together, we may create the “Civilisation of Love” spoken of by Pope Paul VI in our homes, our parishes, our schools and our Diocese.
(Edited from today’s Pastoral Letter of Archbishop George Stack)