POPE Francis has instituted the World Day of the Poor. In his message for the first World Day of the Poor that will be observed on November 19 this year, he says, “To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.”
That did not come as a surprise. Already upon assumption into his Petrine ministry he took on the name Francis, the saint of Assisi who, according to him “was a man of peace, a man of poverty, a man who loved and protected creation.” The poor were already the centerpiece of his papacy.
At the Manila Cathedral he departed from the prepared speech and said. “The poor. The poor are at the center of the Gospel, are at the heart of the Gospel. If we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.” At the closing mass of his visit to the country, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle said, “You arrived in the Philippines 3 days ago. Tomorrow, you will go. Every Filipino wants to go with you. Don’t be afraid. Every Filipino wants to go with you—not to Rome—but to the peripheries.” Going to the peripheries or the preferential option for the poor was already the language of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines in 1991.
In his message, Pope Francis quotes Blessed Paul VI who addressed during the Opening of Second Session of Vatican II in 1963 that “All the poor belong to the Church by evangelical right.” Indeed, the poor is the core of the Gospel. Which is why, it is a scandalous irony for a Gospel preacher to be clad in a lifestyle that substantially is an antithesis with the life and values of the poor. In a recent homily, Archbishop Soc Villegas was quoted as saying, “The story of a priest cannot be a story from rags to riches… because if the story of a priest is from rags to riches then that priest is a Judas who enriched himself with 30 pieces of silver.”
According to Pope Francis poverty is about loving “not with words but with deeds.” It is a call to follow the very poverty of Jesus. “It is an interior attitude that avoids looking upon money, career and luxury as our goal in life and the condition for our happiness. Poverty instead creates the conditions for freely shouldering our personal and social responsibilities, despite our limitations, with trust in God’s closeness and the support of his grace. Poverty, understood in his way, is the yardstick that allows us to judge how best to use material goods and to build relationships that are neither selfish nor possessive.”
It should be a relief that finally there is a World Day of the Poor. This is not only going deeper into exegesis or theology. Hopefully, this will inspire Church people to live and concretely witness what they have been theologizing for centuries now. The poor is a way of life. So says Pope Francis: “We may think of the poor simply as the beneficiaries of our occasional volunteer work, or of impromptu acts of generosity that appease our conscience. However good and useful such acts may be for making us sensitive to people’s needs and the injustices that are often their cause, they ought to lead to a true encounter with the poor and a sharing that becomes a way of life.”