VATICAN CITY — A culture of “comfort” often leads people to become closed in on themselves, Pope Francis said today. He therefore called on believers and people of good will to take personal responsibility for the needs of their neighbors, instead of “running away.”
The Pope’s appeal came at the Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, as he continued his final series of catecheses — on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy — before the close of the Year of Mercy on November 20. Today he focused on the first corporal work of mercy: feeding the hungry.
Speaking to thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, the pope said we are often presented with “ephemeral lifestyles that disappear after a few years, as if our lives were a fad to follow and change with every season,” But “reality needs to be accepted and dealt with for what it is, and life sometimes sets before us situations of urgent need.”
“How often the media informs us about peoples who are suffering from a lack of food and water, with serious consequences particularly for children.”
“Faced with this news and especially with certain images,” he continued, “public opinion is touched and from time to time campaigns are launched to stimulate solidarity. People donate generously and, in this way, one can contribute to alleviating the suffering of many people.”
“This form of charity is important,” Pope Francis said, “but perhaps it doesn’t involve us directly.”
Speaking off the cuff, he then said: “Poverty in the abstract doesn’t call us to respond personally. It makes us think, it makes us complain, but when you see poverty in the flesh of a man, a woman, a child — yes — this calls us to respond personally…. We have the habit of running away, the habit of running away from the needy, of not drawing near, or of ‘touching up’ the reality of the needy with fashionable trends, and so we distance ourselves from this reality.”
“Instead,” he continued, “when going down the street, and we meet a person in need, or a poor man comes knocking at the door of our home, it’s very different, because I am no longer in front of an image, but am personally involved. There is no longer any distance between me and him or her, and I feel called to be personally involved.”
“In these cases, how do I react?” the pope asked. “Do I turn away my gaze, do I walk on? Or do I stop and talk, and take interest in how he is? … Do I see if I can welcome this person in some way, or do I seek to free myself from him as soon as possible?”
We must never forget that this work of mercy calls us to respond personally to concrete situations of need in our own lives, he said. Saint James warns against ignoring the practical needs of our brothers and sisters, for faith without works is dead (James 2:14-17). In the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus tells his disciples to provide food for the crowds, yet he shows them that, in sharing what they have, he will give it increase.
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on integral human development, Caritas in veritate, he stated: “Feed the hungry (cf. Mt 25: 35, 37, 42) is an ethical imperative for the universal Church … The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.”
Jesus himself is the bread of life, and he makes it clear that our relationship with the Father depends on the way we respond to the hunger and thirst of our brothers and sisters, he said.