Citing John Paul II, Pope Francis recalls that the Church's 'preferential option for the poor' is the responsibility of every single Christian.
With forceful reflections on the pandemic and the even greater social virus of inequality, Pope Francis today continued his catechesis on the social principles that come from the Gospel and the Church’s tradition, specifically the principle known as the “preferential option for the poor.”
The virus doesn’t distinguish between people, the pope began by reflecting, but it does exacerbate the great inequalities that are part of our world. Therefore, he said, a response to the pandemic must be twofold: to find a cure for the virus, but also for the social injustice and inequality of opportunity.
The preferential option for the poor “is not a political option; nor is it an ideological option, a party option… no. The preferential option for the poor is at the center of the Gospel. And the first to do this was Jesus.”
The Holy Father went on to cite a handful of Gospel passages in which we see Jesus ministering to the poor in a variety of ways. “He took risks to be near to the poor,” the pope summarized. And thus, Jesus’ followers “recognize themselves by their closeness to the poor, the little ones, the sick and the imprisoned, the excluded and the forgotten, those without food and clothing.”
Pope Francis has many times mentioned what will be the criterion for our judgement, as found in Matthew 25: Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.
“This is a key criterion of Christian authenticity,” he emphasized. “Some mistakenly think that this preferential love for the poor is a task for the few, but in reality it is the mission of the Church as a whole, as Saint John Paul II said. (cf. St. John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, 42). ‘Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor society.'”
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But in helping the poor, Pope Francis reminded, an authentic Christian attitude does not simply provide for needs.
Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelized by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be “infected” by their experience of salvation, by their wisdom and by their creativity. Sharing with the poor means mutual enrichment. And, if there are unhealthy social structures that prevent them from dreaming of the future, we must work together to heal them, to change them.
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Pope Francis acknowledged that everyone is worried about the consequence of the pandemic — “all of us” — but, he urged, let us not return to a normal that includes “social injustices and the degradation of the environment.”
As he insisted in the memorable Urbi et Orbi blessing of March, we will leave the pandemic better or worse: “We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice and environmental damage. Today we have an opportunity to build something different.”
Here, the pope clarified that choosing the poor is not merely giving them financial or other assistance.
“We can nurture an economy of the integral development of the poor, and not of providing assistance,” he said.
While “aid is important,” and volunteerism is, for example, “one of the best structures of the Italian Church,” still “we must go beyond this, to resolve the problems that lead us to provide aid.”
He spoke against economic decisions that are a “poison,” rather than an aid, “such as profits not linked to the creation of dignified jobs” — a profit “dissociated from the real economy, that which should bring benefits to the common people.”
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A vaccine only for the rich?
The Church’s understanding of a preferential option of the poor should lead us to “conceive of and design an economy where people, and especially the poorest, are at the center.”
In this regard, the pope voiced two specific concerns:
It would be sad if, for the vaccine for Covid-19, priority were to be given to the richest! It would be sad if this vaccine were to become the property of this nation or another, rather than universal and for all. And what a scandal it would be if all the economic assistance we are observing – most of it with public money – were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation. There are criteria for choosing which industries should be helped: those which contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, to the promotion of the last, to the common good and the care of creation. Four criteria.
The pope made a call for changing this world, for following the example of Jesus, who provides “physical, social and spiritual healing.”
We must act now, to heal the epidemics caused by small, invisible viruses, and to heal those caused by the great and visible social injustices. I propose that this be done by starting from the love of God, placing the peripheries at the center and the last in first place. Do not forget that protocol by which we will be judged, Matthew, chapter 25. Let us put it into practice in this recovery from the epidemic. And starting from this tangible love – as the Gospel says, there – anchored in hope and founded in faith, a healthier world will be possible. Otherwise, we will come out of the crisis worse. May the Lord help us, and give us the strength to come out of it better, responding to the needs of today’s world.