VATICAN CITY — The gift of hope becomes tangible in people’s lives through concrete actions that seek to relieve the suffering of the poor and console the downtrodden, Pope Francis said.
In his homily at a Mass for the World Day of the Poor Nov. 14, the pope said that true Christian hope is not “the naive, even adolescent optimism of those who hope things may change” but is instead built daily through concrete gestures that manifest “the kingdom of love, justice and fraternity that Jesus inaugurated.”
“We are asked to nurture tomorrow’s hope by healing today’s pain,” he said. “The hope born of the Gospel has nothing to do with a passive expectation that things may be better tomorrow, but with making God’s promise of salvation concrete today. Today and every day.”
The Mass capped a series of events marking the annual world day, including a Nov. 12 pilgrimage to Assisi with hundreds of poor men, women and children from across Europe.
With a pilgrim’s staff and mantle, Pope Francis entered Assisi’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels with 500 economically or socially disadvantaged people and the volunteers who walk alongside them.
The pope’s pilgrimage to Assisi Nov. 12 was dedicated totally to the poor in preparation for the celebration Nov. 14 of the World Day of the Poor.
A France-based charity, Fratello, brought 200 poor pilgrims from France, Poland, Croatia, Switzerland and Spain. The Jesuit Refugee Service’s Centro Astalli brought refugees from Congo, Angola and Nigeria. The Community of Sant’Egidio brought the residents of a shelter for the homeless located just outside St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. And Italian diocesan Caritas volunteers brought hundreds of the people they work with each day.
Six of them shared their stories with Pope Francis — stories of crime and prison or of drugs and alcohol, stories of being forced to flee their homeland or living on the street, but especially stories of steadfast or newfound faith, of finding a helping hand and of learning to see the face of Christ in the poor.
The crowd kept applauding to encourage Sebastián, a Spaniard, as he struggled with sobs to tell his story of drug addiction and prison. He said he was convinced “that my sins could not be forgiven because I had done so much evil” until he met a priest, who introduced him to the charismatic renewal movement.
Qadery Abdul Razaq, an older Afghan refugee who had worked with the Italian army, thanked the government for getting him and his wife to safety and Caritas for providing housing and food and help with their resettlement.
But, he said, “we thank them most of all for treating us like their parents and not like children.”
For too many people, the presence of the poor in their cities is “an annoyance,” the pope said. “Sometimes we hear it said that those responsible for poverty are the poor — an added insult!”
“So as not to carry out a serious examination of conscience on one’s own actions, on the injustice of certain laws and economic measures, on the hypocrisy of those who want to enrich themselves excessively, blame is laid at the feet of those who are weakest,” Pope Francis said.
“It is time for the poor to be given back their voice,” he said.
Cindy Wooden contributed to this story.