It is my wish that, in the week preceding the World Day of the Poor, which falls this year on 19 November, the Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Christian communities will make every effort to create moments of encounter and friendship, solidarity and concrete assistance.”
— Pope Francis, “First World Day of the Poor,” June 13, 2017
Nov. 19, 2017 marks the first World Day of the Poor, announced in a letter by Pope Francis at the conclusion of last year’s Jubilee of Mercy on the occasion of the Memorial of St. Anthony of Padua. In his letter, Francis recalls for us the animus for such a pronouncement: that we are loved first by God, and by that life called to love others. Through the conversion of our hearts, by the knowledge of God’s love for us, we are able to extend love to others. Pope Francis speaks of God’s love for us in the letter: “Even though offered unconditionally, asking nothing in return, it so sets hearts on fire that all who experience it are led to love back, despite their limitations and sins.”
Pope Benedict also wrote beautifully about this central Biblical precept. He says, “Being Christian is not an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Here he is speaking of the crucifixion. With that in mind, he continues “I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others.” Both Popes Benedict and Francis bring us back to a personal level when speaking about our action in the world. Encounter and relationship are essential for working with our poor.
The importance of encounter is spoken about throughout other writings of Pope Francis. This letter is no exception: “We are called, then, 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.” We recognize that encounter as one of the most important elements of our work at Catholic Charities. So many who come to us express gratitude through those encounters and those who serve express it back, because it is through these encounters that they also are fed.
One of the best ways in which any of us can participate in the first World Day of the Poor, then, is by seeking authentic encounter with the people around us who are bearing a burden. The Marian House Soup Kitchen serves as an ideal place to meet the people we serve. All are welcome there, whatever your burden may be. Volunteering for the kitchen is another great way of meeting our brothers and sisters in need.
Through encounter we gain a better understanding for what a person is going through. The next necessary step is accompaniment. Our staff work individually with people to find hope and a plan. Sometime that plan is for immediate safety, and other times it is a longer term plan toward greater stability. We have more of this work happening than ever before, resulting in 250 job placements in a little over two years since the inception of career development services.
We must advocate for the vulnerable in our communities as taught to us beginning with Old Testament scripture, throughout the Gospel, and by our Popes and leaders of the faith. Sometimes we have the opportunity to raise our voice in solidarity with our poor through advocacy on current issues, such as respect for life, affordable housing, and justice for immigrants. In another way, we help to strengthen the voices of our brothers and sisters by building them up. We do this by employing them through our career development program, by strengthening their home through our family programs, by securing their status in the United States, or by teaching them English, to name a few ways.
Nov. 19 is also the weekend of awareness about Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an organization of the US Bishops which targets the root causes of poverty and focuses on the participation of our poor in solutions to poverty. Twenty-five percent of the funds collected for CCHD come back to our diocese for our own work, such as the Catholic Charities Mini-grant program assisting parish-based work with our poor. More about this will appear in the next edition of the Herald.
Finally, Pope Francis says that “At the heart of all the many concrete initiatives carried out on this day should always be prayer.” So we invite you to join our St. Anthony of Padua Prayer Society for the work of Catholic Charities and for all our brothers in sisters in need, that we may work toward justice in the world in a way that is pleasing to God. To join the St. Anthony of Padua Prayer Society, go to www.CCharitiesCC.org.
(Corey Almond is Vice President of Community and Parish Engagement for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.)