On the fifth World Day of the Poor Nov. 14, Pope Francis called for a different approach to poverty, urging the world’s people to see that Christ shares the lot of the poor.
His statement, called “The Poor You will Always Have with You,” explains that poverty “has imprinted on it the face of the Saviour who asks for our help.”
The help the pontiff envisions for individuals is personal and it’s the approach we might try if Christ showed up on our doorstep. Awed and honored, one imagines engaging in a sharing of gifts — we could offer the son of God respite and he might offer his blessing.
Such an exchange honors the dignity of each party and creates a sense of friendship.
Pope Francis sees the potential for a similar kind of encounter with any child of God living in poverty.
“As we know, acts of charity presuppose a giver and a receiver, whereas mutual sharing generates fraternity. Almsgiving is occasional; mutual sharing, on the other hand, is enduring. The former risks gratifying those who perform it and can prove demeaning for those who receive it; the latter strengthens solidarity and lays the necessary foundations for achieving justice.
“In short, believers, when they want to see Jesus in person and touch him with their hands, know where to turn. The poor are a sacrament of Christ; they represent his person and point to him.”
This approach is important for individuals and families. It’s especially important as the holidays approach, when it feels so easy to stop outreach at writing a check. Instead, Pope Francis believes we can find salvation and wisdom by knowing our impoverished brothers and sisters personally.
“We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them,” he writes.
“We cannot wait for the poor to knock on our door; we need urgently to reach them in their homes, in hospitals and nursing homes, on the streets and in the dark corners where they sometimes hide, in shelters and reception centres. It is important to understand how they feel, what they are experiencing and what their hearts desire,” he writes.
The full text of the message, which also considers poverty on the global level and considers what nations might do to address it, is available at vatican.va under Francis messages.
As the holidays approach, consider how you or your parish might become more personally involved in outreach with those living in poverty. If you aren’t able to directly help, perhaps when you make a donation you can pray for the recipient.
Find ways to make your outreach to the poor more personal. And when the holidays are over, try to make it a habit that continues through Lent and the rest of the year.