One of the things about Pope Francis that has most impressed me and many others is his simplicity of life. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived in a simple apartment, rode public transit, and cooked his own meals. The night he was elected as pope, he rode to the reception in the bus with the cardinals. He refused to live in the traditional papal apartments, instead opting for a room in Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse. There he takes his meals with others, going through the serving line with his tray like anyone else. He eschewed the traditional papal Mercedes, and selected a four-year-old Ford Focus for his trips in Rome. When he came to the United States, he rode in the back of a Fiat 500L. On numerous occasions now, he has invited street people to dine with him. Thus, it was no big surprise that Pope Francis has declared an annual “World Day of the Poor,” to be celebrated this weekend.
In his Message for this day, Pope Francis writes, “We are called… to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.” Later, he continues, “Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world. Faced with this scenario, we cannot remain passive, much less resigned. There is a poverty that stifles the spirit of initiative of so many young people by keeping them from finding work. There is a poverty that dulls the sense of personal responsibility and leaves others to do the work while we go looking for favours. There is a poverty that poisons the wells of participation and allows little room for professionalism; in this way it demeans the merit of those who do work and are productive. To all these forms of poverty we must respond with a new vision of life and society.”
Jesus, too, often directs his ministry to the poor, and criticizes the rich. He himself ended up on the underside of society, rejected by both religious and civic leaders. Next week we will hear how he himself is to be found in the poor: the hungry, thirsty, ill, and imprisoned. May we continue to find Christ there.