Pope: It is time to hear the poor, for far too long their requests have not been heeded
Francis travelled to Assisi ahead of the Fifth World Day of the Poor. “It is time for sleeves to be rolled up so dignity can be restored by creating jobs,” he said. “It is time to be scandalised once again before 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.” Likewise, “It is time that violence against women cease and that they be respected and not treated like bargaining chips.”
Assisi (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis visited the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels in Assisi today, a couple of days before the Fifth World Day of the Poor on Sunday. Here he met with 500 poor people from different parts of the world.
In his address, the pontiff said that it was time for the voice of the poor to be heard again after going unheeded for too long, for jobs to be created, for people to be scandalised by the fate of children, starved, enslaved, victims of violence, for violence against women to stop and for them to be respected rather than treated as merchandise.
In his fifth visit to the city of the Poor Man of Assisi, Pope Francis, with the pilgrim's cloak and staff, listened to the stories, often tragic, of some of the people present, stories like those of Farzaneh, a young Afghan woman who said that her heart was still "with her friends in Kabul", and Abrhaley Tesfagergs Habte, a 31-year-old Eritrean blinded by one of the many anti-personnel mines used during his country’s war of liberation from Ethiopia. He accompanied the Pope in the first part of the visit, in front of the basilica.
Other stories echoed as well, about poverty, drugs, violence; broken lives slowly trying to recover, also thanks to the help of Caritas and other Catholic charities. And Francis listened, shook hands and hugged children.
“I thank you for accepting my invitation – I was the guest! - to celebrate here in Assisi, the city of Saint Francis, the fifth World Day of the Poor that will be celebrated the day after tomorrow. It is an idea that came from you, it grew, and we have now reached the fifth edition.”
This idea was “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”.
“I thank you because you have come here from many different countries to live this experience of encounter and of faith.”
The Pope also thanked Card Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop emeritus of Lyon, who ended up on trial a few years ago on charges of covering up abuse, only to be later acquitted. The cardinal is in Assisi together with some poor people from France.
Looking at him, the pontiff said that “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. I was saying that we have come to meet each other: this is the first thing, that is, to go towards each other with an open heart and outstretched hand. We know that every one of us needs the other, and that even weakness, if experienced together, can become a strength that will make the world better.
“The presence of the poor is often seen as an annoyance and is put up with. Sometimes we hear it said that those responsible for poverty are the poor! A further 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, an examination of conscience on the hypocrisy of those who want to enrich themselves excessively, blame is laid at the feet of those who are weakest.
“Rather it is time that the poor be given back their voice, because for too long their requests have remained unheard. It is time that eyes be opened to see the state of inequality in which many families live. It is time for sleeves to be rolled up so dignity can be restored by creating jobs. It is time to be scandalised once again before 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.
“It is time that violence against women cease and that they be respected and not treated like bargaining chips. It is time that the circle of indifference be broken so as to discover once again the beauty of encounter and dialogue. It is time to meet each other. It is the time to meet. If humanity, if we men and women do not learn to meet each other, we are heading for a very sad end.
“I have attentively listened to your testimonies, and I thank you for everything you have courageously and sincerely expressed. [. . .] There are some things in particular that I liked and would like to summarize them somehow to make them even more my own and let them settle into my heart.
“First of all, I perceived a tremendous sense of hope. Life has not always treated you well; indeed, it has often shown you its cruel face. Marginalisation, suffering sickness and loneliness, the lack of so many necessary means has not stopped you from seeing with eyes filled with gratitude the little things that have enabled you to hold out.
“To hold out. This is the second impression I received and that comes directly from hope. What does it mean to hold out? To have the strength to keep going despite everything. To swim against the current. To hold out is not a passive action, on the contrary, it requires the courage to take a new path knowing it will bear fruit.
“To hold out means to find reasons for not giving up when confronted with difficulties, knowing that we do not experience them alone but together, and that only together can we overcome them. To hold out against every temptation to give up and fall into loneliness and sadness. To hold out, holding on to the little wealth we may have.
“I think of the girl in Afghanistan, with her striking phrase: my body is here, my soul is there. Holding out with memory, today. I think of the Romanian mother who spoke at the end: pain, hope and no way out, but strong hope in her children who accompany her and repay the tenderness they received from her.
“Let us ask the Lord to always help us find serenity and joy. [. . .] May this meeting open all of our hearts to put ourselves at each other’s disposal; to open our hearts to make our weakness a strength to help continue on the journey of life, to transform our poverty into wealth to be shared, and thus to make the world better.”
After the greetings, the Pope returned to the Vatican by helicopter while the poor had lunch organised by Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.