First World Day of the Poor is Nov. 19

By: OSV Newsweekly

When it became clear that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, would succeed Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil, seated next to Cardinal Bergoglio in the March 2013 conclave, comforted the Argentine cardinal and told him, “Don’t forget the poor.”

The future Pope Francis took those words to heart.

“That’s always been a characteristic of his spirituality and his ministry,” Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha of Fall River, Massachusetts, told Our Sunday Visitor. Bishop da Cunha said the first World Day of the Poor, Nov. 19, which the pontiff announced in his November 2016 closing letter for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, is an opportunity for the whole Church to reflect, pray and think about how it serves the poor the world over.

“That was so much a part of Jesus’ ministry,” said Bishop da Cunha, whose diocese is seated in a city that has struggled with high unemployment and drug abuse since the textile industry’s decline over the last 30 years. “Jesus in the Gospels, in so many ways, refers to the poor in a special way, teaching us that God loves and cares for them, and that we should never neglect them because they have human dignity.”

Shifting our attention

Bishop John E. Stowe, OFM Conv, of Lexington, Kentucky, echoed Bishop da Cunha’s sentiments, also telling OSV that the World Day of the Poor, which will be commemorated on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, moves Catholics closer to fulfilling Pope Francis’ desire that the Catholic Church become “a church that is poor and for the poor.”

“It’s an important thing for the Church to call attention consistently to the plight of the poor and to be on their side, to be with them in that plight, which is a particular challenge in a very materialistic and consumerist society,” said Bishop Stowe, whose diocese encompasses part of Appalachia, a region that long has struggled with poverty.

The first World Day of the Poor will coincide in the United States with the annual national collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the official domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. bishops. In that same week, Catholics in the United States will be preparing for Thanksgiving.

“I also think it’s a nice lead-in to the final celebration of the Church’s year, the feast of Christ the King, as the readings move us toward the idea of treasures in heaven,” Bishop Stowe said.

In his letter launching the World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis called on Christians to serve the poor with actions that address their daily needs, which the pope describes as an “imperative that no Christian may disregard.”

Citing the Acts of the Apostles and several of the New Testament epistles, the pope offered a scripturally based argument for why Christians are mandated to engage those in poverty. Pope Francis said care of the poor was “one of the first signs of the entrance of the Christian community upon the world’s stage.”

“If we truly wish to encounter Christ,” the pope writes, “we have to touch his body in the sufferings of the poor, as a response to the sacramental Communion bestowed in the Eucharist.”

Remember human dignity

Catholic News Service reported that Pope Francis on Nov. 19 will celebrate a special Mass with the poor and the people who assist them. He is also scheduled to offer a luncheon for the 500 people who are expected to attend the Mass.

A hallmark of Francis’ pontificate has been a prioritization of the Church’s efforts on behalf of the poor. Church leaders and leaders of Catholic relief agencies in the United States told OSV that the pope’s decision to establish the World Day of the Poor spotlights the issue of poverty in a similar manner that his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ (“On Care for Our Common Home”) did for Catholic understanding ecology and environmental stewardship.

Why a Day of the Poor?

“During the Jubilee for Socially Excluded People, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This day will also represent a genuine form of New Evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as she perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”

Pope Francis in his November 2016 apostolic letter Misericordia et Misera, closing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“By having this special day designated, I think it’s an opportunity not only to consider the Works of Mercy that are done, but also to personally think about how we are called upon to do more,” said Ralph Middlecamp, the national president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Middlecamp told OSV that the day also could help Catholics to see that there is a spiritual dimension in working to alleviate poverty. Encountering the poor directly can be a reminder of the distinct human dignity that people have even if they are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

“They are mothers and fathers with children, and their goal is to have their children to be healthy, to have an education and a decent life,” said Joan Rosenhauer, the executive vice president of U.S. Operations for Catholic Relief Services.

Rosenhauer told OSV that CRS has created several resources to help parishes and Catholic schools commemorate the first World Day of the Poor. Those resources include ideas for general intercessions, homily materials and concrete steps people can take to help the poor around the world.

“It’s important to emphasize that people can feel overwhelmed by poverty, whether it’s here in the United States or around the world,” Rosenhauer said. “I think we have to understand there are very effective ways that we can help people build their lives and help them grow out of poverty. We can all be a part of that.”

Striving for understanding

The World Day of the Poor underscores the issue of poverty for the whole Catholic community, even those who may not be as closely involved with helping those in need, said Mary Beth Pinard, executive director of Vermont Catholic Charities.

“The pope has certainly called us to be a missionary Church, and I think again that highlighting a World Day of the Poor puts it front and center for everyone to think about and hopefully to take action,” said Pinard, whose agency helps needy Vermont residents with back rent and utility payments.

While some people may have perceptions of the poor being lazy and responsible for their own poverty, Catholic officials who work with the poor told OSV that the reality is more complicated. Stagnant wages, difficulty finding jobs, struggling schools and not being able to access benefits, especially health care, all serve to trap people in poverty.

“It’s difficult for people to work their way out of the situation when they’re worried about where they are going to live or where their next meals are coming from,” Middlecamp said. “Sometimes we have unrealistic expectations that people can solve their own problems.”

“We hear too much rhetoric that makes it sound like poverty is people’s own fault. We don’t pay enough attention to the systems of poverty that keep people trapped, whether they be in the inner cities or the rural working poor,” Bishop Stowe said

“We need to realize that poor people are just as human and have same dignity, and that treating them well is a benefit to everyone and to society as a whole,” Bishop da Cunha said.

Rosenhauer, of CRS, said she is hopeful that the World Day of the Poor will keep the poor in the Church’s collective consciousness.

“I think what’s important for us to understand is that everything does not get transformed overnight,” Rosenhauer said. “But if this happens every year, and more and more parishes, schools and families can focus on what does this particular day mean for us, and how we can respond and how can we learn more about our brothers and sisters in need, then I think over time it will lead to an even greater commitment to caring for the poor as a reflection of what we believe as Catholics.”

.This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.


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