Pope Francis has issued a call to fight indifference to poverty on what has been dubbed the first “World Day for the Poor” by the Catholic Church.
Celebrating the event in Rome at a mass attended by about 7,000 poor people at St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope urged people not to ignore poverty by believing that “it’s not my business, it’s the fault of society”.
“We have the talents, we are talented in the eyes of God. Consequently, no one can think that he or she is useless, so poor as to be incapable of giving something to others,” he said.
“[The poor] are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our passport to paradise. For us it is an evangelical duty to care for them,” the Pope said.
It is “sad” when Christians “do no more than keep to the rules and follow the commandments, like employees” of the Lord, and do not actively engage in charity, Francis warned.
He added that a lifetime of “doing nothing wrong isn’t enough. Because God isn’t an inspector looking for unstamped tickets”.
During the service in St Peter’s Basilica, Francis was assisted by 12 people – migrants, poor or homeless people – and one of the readings was delivered by a Syrian refugee.
The Pope, who calls himself “a street priest”, said days after his election to the papacy in 2013, that he wanted to lead “a poor church, for the poor”.
On Thursday, he visited a temporary field hospital for the poor that was set up outside St Peter’s Colonnade, as part of charity efforts ahead of yesterday’s event.
To mark the World Day of the Poor, he wrote on Twitter: “On this day, I invite the entire church to keep its gaze fixed on those who hold out their hands asking for our solidarity.”
During his traditional Sunday Angelus message to crowds in St Peter’s Square, Francis gave a special mention to “the people who are experiencing painful poverty due to war and conflicts” and appealed for peace in the Middle East and prayed for Lebanon’s stability.
After mass yesterday, Francis had lunch with about 1,500 destitute people inside the immense Paul VI Hall, which adjoins the Vatican Basilica and usually hosts papal audiences and conferences, while another 2,500 were fed elsewhere.
“I’m not ashamed to be poor, I’m even proud of it when I see the solidarity and generosity that I saw today, with all those arms stretching out to take care of our little ones,” said Maria Lorena, who has nine children, and was among the guests. “We are materially poor but rich in our faith and dignity.”
A chef in charge of official Vatican meals prepared the meals including gnocchi, veal bites with vegetables and tiramisu.
“I am happy seeing all these people here but we must not just help them for a day, but throughout the year,” said Francesco, in his 50s, from Sardinia. “A day like this gives a little hope, we hope for good things for the future.”
The guests came from Italy, but also from France, Poland, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, with similar initiatives held in other dioceses across Italy and elsewhere in the world.
The Pope has often spoken about social inclusion, indirectly criticising governments that do not pay attention to those on the margins of society.
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