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Are we willing to recognize why the World Day of the Poor is for us?


John Burger

I.Media - published on 11/11/21

The poor are those who are dependent, dependent on God, dependent on their brothers and sisters ...

On the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to Assisi, where he will meet with 500 underprivileged people from across Europe, Etienne Villemain, president of the Fratello Association, explains why the Church and Christians must “hold on” to the poor in order to be able to recover in a period marked by the sexual abuse crisis.

What do you expect from this meeting between Pope Francis and the poor in Assisi?

Villemain: In recent years, the context in the Catholic Church has changed a lot, especially in France. A few weeks ago, we discovered with horror the content of the report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE)…

In this painful moment when we are, with the victims, at the foot of the Cross, the poor are our door of salvation. They are the hope of our Church and our Pope. At a time when many things are falling apart, when the Church is becoming increasingly unheard, we believe that there is one person to whom we can cling: Christ. Jesus tells us that he hides himself in the poor.

This year, I am very moved and very happy to come to Assisi in such numbers, with many fragile people. There will not only be people from the streets, but people with a wide variety of needs. It is a great grace to be able to gather at this time.

How does the city of Assisi, which has been chosen to host this meeting, inspire you?

Villemain: It is incredible to think that the Pope of the poor is going to the city of the Poverello to meet the poor of the whole world. I went with Alix Montagne [co-founder of Fratello] to visit the tomb of St. Francis before this meeting. It’s an overwhelming place. It is very powerful to be welcomed by a man who was extremely spiritual while being close to the little ones and the poor, going so far as to embrace lepers.

Too often, we see a separation between those who privilege a spiritual life and those who are socially oriented, with the unfortunate tendency to oppose the two dimensions. St. Francis puts our heads in the sky and our feet on the ground. He teaches us to love Jesus and the poor.

Pope Francis was elected in 2013 to point the Church towards the periphery. Is there still a way to go?

Villemain: Yes, and the road ahead is really the one between the head and the heart of each person. The Pope gives an impulse, a direction. But the most important thing is that each one be converted. Often we do not welcome the poor because we are afraid of them. Because it is as if, unconsciously, we say to ourselves: “If I touch a poor person, I will become poor.” In fact, we do not accept our limit.

We must not be mistaken: World Day of the Poor is for everyone. As long as we think that it is for others, that we are not really poor, we will continue to make the mistake of thinking we are “full of ourselves.” But the poor are those who are dependent, dependent on God, dependent on their brothers and sisters. And if I am dependent on others and on God, then He can come and fill my heart.

Isn’t the risk of this World Day of the Poor to see everyone return to an ordinary life on the other days of the year?

Villemain: To avoid this pitfall, we must understand that the poor must not be at the door of our churches, as they often are, but must be at the heart of them. We cannot be “happy” Christians, satisfied with the charitable actions of yesterday. We must be able to welcome our poor neighbors every day. And we can only do this when we are able to welcome our own poverty every day. Otherwise, we will fall in love with an image of ourselves that is not real; we will fantasize about ourselves and we will trip over ourselves.

What do you think are the solutions?

Villemain: I think we need to return to these three words: adoration, compassion, and evangelization. It is by adoring the Lord that we can ask him to come and visit our frailties and to give us a heart of compassion. With this heart, we will naturally become missionaries wanting to announce the good God, giving the poor next door what they need, starting with bread.

What is at stake is personal conversion. And it is not we who convert. We let ourselves be converted, every day. We don’t know how to do it, but we can call on the Holy Spirit to come and do the work in us.

Pope Francis
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