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The strange way the World Day of the Poor came about

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I.Media for Aleteia - published on 11/12/21

A simple comment in a sacristy was the way the Holy Spirit spoke to the Pope.

While on his pilgrimage with the poor to Assisi on November 12, Pope Francis left his text to thank two French people present in the assembly: Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop emeritus of Lyon, and Étienne Villemain, founder of the Lazare Association and president of the Fratello Association, who was the inspiration behind the World Day of the Poor.

Turning to the cardinal who accompanied a group from France, the Pontiff declared: “He is among the poor, he too has suffered with dignity the experience of poverty, of abandonment, of distrust. And he has defended himself with silence and prayer.

Pope Francis also thanked him for his help for the Fratello movement.

On January 30, 2020, Cardinal Barbarin was exonerated by the Lyon Court of Appeals in a trial where he was accused of failing to report the abuse of the former priest Bernard Preynat.

During this time the Pope had not accepted the cardinal’s resignation, which he requested. The Pope did accept it the following March 6.

I.MEDIA spoke with him at the end of the celebration. He said he was delighted with how the World Day of the Poor has developed, “a grace proper to Pope Francis.” Poverty, he said, is the key to reading “his entire pontificate.”

The comment that led to a World Day

Just before his remarks to the cardinal, Pope Francis also pointed out the founder of Fratello, Étienne Villemain.

Pope Francis explained how Villemain was the inspiration of the World Day of the Poor in 2016.

I would like to thank God who gave us this idea of the Day of the Poor. An idea born in a rather strange way, in a sacristy. I was about to celebrate Mass and one of you – his name is Étienne – do you know him? He is an enfant terrible – Étienne suggested to me: “Let’s have a Day of the Poor.”

I went out and I felt that the Holy Spirit, inside, was telling me to do it. That is how it began: from the courage of one of you who has the courage to carry things forward. I thank him for his work over the years and the work of so many who accompany him.

And I would like to thank Cardinal [Barbarin] for his presence: he is among the poor, he too has suffered with dignity the experience of poverty, of abandonment, of distrust. And he has defended himself with silence and prayer. Thank you, Cardinal Barbarin, for your testimony which builds up the Church. 

Tags:
Pope FrancisWorld Day of the Poor
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