Currents News Staff
Pope Francis kicked off World Day of the Poor in Assisi, the home of the saint of the poor.
Before entering this basilica, known by the Franciscans as the “Portiuncula,” a group of participants gave the Holy Father a pilgrim’s cloak and walking stick.
He didn’t choose this place arbitrarily. The Portiuncula is where St. Francis of Assisi found his vocation and gave up his wealth to live in poverty, among the poor. He also started the Franciscan movement. There the Holy Father listened to the participants’ moving stories.
Some shared what they do to help others. Like this couple who moved to the peripheries in Paris in order to be with the poor. Others shared how they received help. Like this man from Spain who was left unemployed during the pandemic.
“In that moment, as with many other people around the world, the pandemic surprised me,” he said before he tears started to fall from his face. “I was left alone and without a job, on the street. For several weeks, I was sleeping in the streets. I asked a priest for help, and he welcomed me with a smile… He looked at me and said… I’m going to help you.”
Another homeless woman spoke about the help she received from Catholic organization, Caritas.
“The people from Caritas began helping me when they heard about my situation,” she said. “They gave me food and some financial support, which allowed me to move forward and keep my dignity.”
Other homeless people shared how being helped by others led them to discover the faith. This homeless man from France was an Atheist, but he decided to get baptized. A Polish man rediscovered his relationship with God.
“I hated myself at first,” he said. “Now I accept who I am and, thank God, I want to turn my life around. Today I feel like a free man.”
A young Afghan woman told the Holy Father that she is very worried about her family and friends who are still stuck in Afghanistan. And this man who taught sociology in Afghanistan, asked for help getting his children out of the country.
“I have four children: two boys and two girls,” he said before he started to cry. “They are between 20 and 24 years old, and have been abandoned in Afghanistan.”
The Holy Father was moved by the testimonies and listened very attentively.
“The Day of the Poor… I thank the poor, who open their hearts to give us their richness and heal our wounded hearts,” Pope Francis said. “Thank you for this courage.”
The Holy Father also thanked those who help people in need. But he urged more people to join the cause.
“It is time to open our eyes to see the state of inequality in which many families live,” Pope Francis said. “It is time to roll back our sleeves so dignity can be restored by creating jobs. It is time to be scandalized once more by the reality of children who are starving, reduced to slavery, tossed about in the water in the aftermath of a shipwreck, innocent victims of every sort of violence.”
The Holy Father listed a number situations of poverty that affect all kinds of people.
“It is time for violence against women to stop, and for them to be respected and not treated like bargaining chips,” Pope Francis said. “It is time to break the circle of indifference and return to discovering beauty in encounter and dialogue. It is time to encounter one another. If we do not learn to encounter one another, we will move toward a very sad end.”
It was not a formal event. The Holy Father listened to participants, prayed with them and blessed them. Pope Francis encourages Catholics to organize events like this one in every city in the world.