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The poor pope … the pope of the poor

AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO
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We prepare for the 2nd annual World Day of the Poor, readying ourselves to receive the Good News from them

The World Day of the Poor will be held this year on November 18. Proposed by the founder of Lazarus, an association to assist the homeless, and instituted by our pope of the poor, it is not so much about announcing the Good News to the poor as it is about receiving it from the poor themselves.

What will be Pope Francis’ legacy?

It would be foolhardy to try to weigh his papacy while it may still be in its infancy, but one conviction remains: Francis is first of all a pope of the poor.

The controversies that plague the Successor of Peter are nothing new. Benedict XVI suffered terribly and John Paul II too, but the media often add to the allegedly “unprecedented” nature of these controversies.

So there is no need to wait for the resignation or death of Pope Francis to catch a glimpse of the main themes of his actions, words, and gestures: His personal history already foreshadowed his future. The name “Francis” announced, as soon as he was elected, Assisi’s program of poverty. His dream, expressed on the threshold of his pontificate, is of a “poor Church for the poor.”

The faithful sense it as well. Those who went to see the movie Pope Francis, a Man of His Word were overwhelmed. Take Kader, for example, who returned to see it three times, because he says, “Pope Francis wants to send a message and I need to hear it again.” Or like Antoine, who sobbed like a child during the whole film, because this pope is his: “When the Pope speaks, he is speaking for me. He is talking about me.”

There are also his acts: the only World Day launched by Francis is the World Day of the Poor. The next will take place on Sunday, November 18, 2018, and for its second edition, it has spread across the five continents, as shown at www.wearefratello.org.

World Day of the Poor

In many dioceses, parishes, communities, and movements, this will be a different day. On that day, the poor will be at the heart of the Church, in their rightful place. In a sense, we could hope for a world year or decade of the poor, because it should be the great program of the Church through time…

We can also decode certain signs: The pope entrusted the coordination of this day to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, which is now re-oriented: It is not so much to announce the Good News to the poor, but to receive it from the poor themselves, and to understand that this friendship between rich and poor is, on its own, a testimony.

On November 18, therefore, the pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica before having lunch in Paul VI Hall with hundreds of people from the street who live in great precariousness … faces that we are not used to seeing in great halls. The pope will tell them all: You are here at home, you are our treasure, you are the heart of the Church.

A relentless proposal

This day was born from the “stubbornness” of ​​Étienne Villemain, co-founder of the Association for Friendship and the founder of Lazare. In 2014, he called on the pope at Saint Peter’s Square to ask him to create such a Day. On November 11, 2016, he solemnly formalized this request at the historic Fratello audience. The next day, during an unexpected exchange in the sacristy of St. Peter’s, ​​Étienne asked the pope, now for the third time, to organize the World Day of the Poor. And the pope said “yes.” Afraid he had misunderstood, ​​Étienne asked the pope again, this time in Spanish. “Yes, again,” the pope said, seemingly amused. And, a few dozen minutes later, Francis announced it in his homily, setting aside his text and surprising the translators.

At the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, the pope declared that henceforth every 33rd Ordinary Sunday would be the World Day of the Poor. Before the feast of Christ the King, we are invited to celebrate the poor Christ. If “the poor are our teachers,” as Saint Vincent de Paul said, it is because behind each of them lies the face of our King.

A desire for applause

Last year, it was a resident of Lazare who read the first reading, for the first World Day of the Poor in St. Peter’s Basilica. When he came down the steps of the choir, we felt a desire for applause throughout the congregation: Yes, that day, the Word of God was addressed to us through the voice of Serge, who had — and this was a rare thing — shaved for the occasion. “The poor man cries out and the Lord hears,” says Psalm 33. So often, the Lord cries through the mouths of his poor, but we do not hear him!

On November 11, 2018, the centenary of the end of a world war that left ten million crosses planted in our plains, there is no better way to celebrate the armistice than by preparing for the World Day of the Poor, because “the rich wage war to possess more… […]. The poor are the architects of peace. We need peace in the world, in the Church, in all the churches,” said Francis in November 2016. These words seem lastingly relevant. And these words will give us something to answer the sighs heard here and there of “poor pope” with… “no, the pope of the poor!”

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