The third World Day of the Poor will be marked in the Universal Church on Sunday 17 November 2019. It was established by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera, issued on 20 November 2016 to celebrate the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The first World Day of the Poor was celebrated in November 2017.
On this year’s World Day of the Poor Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in Saint Peter’s Square. This will be followed by a lunch with the poor in the Paul VI Hall. Last year’s lunch saw about 1500 people dining with Pope Francis on a menu of lasagna, chicken morsels, mashed potatoes and tiramisu.
This week also sees a temporary walk-in-clinic in St Peter’s Square which aims to offer medical attention to those most in need. The clinic is open from 8am-10pm from 10 – 17 November, offering free medical examinations to the poor. Last year more than 3,500 people were tended to by doctors and nurses.
World Day of the Poor Message
In his message Pope Francis says that Christians must sow hope among the poor. He draws 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.”
Pope Francis goes on to highlight how 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. 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, the founder of L’Arche, an international organisation of communities dedicated to people with disabilities.
Pope Francis said, “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’. 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. Pope 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. 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.
“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.”