by Angela Powell, Community Participation Co-ordinator CAFOD.
Pope Francis has declared Sunday 13 November 2022 to be the sixth World Day of the Poor, with the theme of “For your sakes Christ became poor” (2 Cor 8:9).
“Jesus Christ… for your sakes became poor” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). With these words, the Apostle Paul addresses the first Christians of Corinth in order to encourage their efforts to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in need.
The Pope’s message encourages us to look into ourselves, the decisions we make and consider how best we can use our own talents and resources every day, to create a fairer world where no one suffers from emptiness or despair.
We may be wondering why we are called to celebrate a day of the Poor. In addition to highlighting the joys, hopes, griefs and anxieties of those who live in poverty, the Pope’s message adds another important dimension. The words of Hope echoed from St Paul’s address to the first Christians of Corinth, remind us of the opportunity we have to choose to enrich our own lives in solidarity with our poorest brothers and sisters. In his message Pope Francis highlights “In a word, generosity towards the poor has its most powerful motivation in the example of the Son of God, who chose to become poor”. Here we have an invitation to make a personal decision to follow Christ’s example and become living signs of love in our world today.
Pope Francis knows we are living through difficult times; he notes that the year comes “as a healthy challenge”. We are all aware of the millions of women, children, and elderly people being forced to be brave in the face of extreme poverty and displacement from their homes. The lasting effects of the pandemic, war, conflict, and relentless cycles of drought and flooding affects us all. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are living each day with fear and the lack of food, water, medical care. In his message, Pope Francis warns everyone “extreme material poverty also corrodes the spiritual dimension, which can be overlooked”. He says “When the only law is the bottom line of profit at the end of the day, nothing holds us back from seeing others simply as objects to be exploited; other people are merely a means to an end. There no longer exist such things as a just salary or just working hours, and new forms of slavery emerge and entrap person who lack alternatives and are forced to accept this toxic injustice simply to eke out a living”.
In these times, it is easy for us to become overwhelmed and wonder how we can respond adequately to this grave situation. This is how the World Day of the Poor gives us hope and is cause for celebration. It’s an opportunity to share what we have with others, to speak out for those whose voices are silenced and to pray together. In doing so, we are choosing to be in solidarity with the poor, choosing to participate in a communal poverty in ways that will free us all, relieve suffering and lead to peace.
In his message, Pope Francis wrote “the poverty that sets us free, is one that results from a responsible decision to cast off all dead weight and concentrate on what is essential. We can easily discern the lack of satisfaction that many people feel because they sense that something important is missing from their lives, with the result that they wander off aimlessly in search of it. In their desire to find something that can bring them satisfaction, they need someone to guide them towards the insignificant, the vulnerable, and the poor, so that they can finally see what they themselves lack. Encountering the poor enables us to put an end to many of our anxieties and empty fears, and to arrive at what truly matters in life, the treasure that no one can steal from us: true and gratuitous love. The poor, before being the object of our almsgiving, are people, who can help set us free from the snares of anxiety and superficiality”.
When St Paul directed the first Christians of Corinth to respond to the needs of the community in Jerusalem who were suffering from great hardship due to a lack of food, he was not asking for acts of charity but encouraging the Christians to make conscious decision to become materially freer, as Jesus had become free for us all. By taking concrete actions to live more simply and sustainably we can enrich our lives and, in the process, remain resolute in our need to share what we can to bring relief and peace to all.
“The words of the Apostle chosen as the theme of this year’s World Day of the Poor present this great paradox of our life of faith: Christ’s poverty makes us rich. Paul was able to present this teaching, which the Church has spread and borne witness to over the centuries, because God himself, in his Son Jesus, chose to follow this path”. – words in italic are taken from Pope Francis’ message on The World Day of the Poor 2022.
To help us to reflect on these inspiring words, we can explore CAFOD’s prayers and resources on poverty and solidarity.