By Lydia O’Kane
The theme for the 4th World Day of the Poor is “Stretch forth your hand to the poor”, taken from the book of Sirach. The Message was released on Saturday, while the actual World Day is observed on 15 November 2020.
Drawing from this text, Pope Francis observes that “its author presents his advice concerning many concrete situations in life, one of which is poverty. He insists that even amid hardship we must continue to trust in God.”
The Pope points out that from these pages we see, “prayer to God and solidarity with the poor and suffering are inseparable.”
He also notes that “time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbour in need.”
The gift of Generosity
“Generosity that supports the weak, consoles the afflicted, relieves suffering and restores dignity to those stripped of it, is a condition for a fully human life,” Pope Francis says.
“The power of God’s grace cannot be restrained by the selfish tendency to put ourselves always first.”
In his message, the Pope acknowledges that “keeping our gaze fixed on the poor is difficult”, but, he underlines, it is “more necessary than ever if we are to give proper direction to our personal life and the life of society.”
Whirlwind of indifference
“We cannot feel ‘alright’ when any member of the human family is left behind and in the shadows,” he says.
The Pope laments a frenetic pace of life that leads people into a “whirlwind of indifference”. He adds that it is only when something happens that upsets the course of our lives do our eyes become capable of seeing the goodness of the saints “next door”.
Covid-19 and the Saints next door
Devoting a significant part of his message to the Covid-19 pandemic, Pope Francis draws attention to the many “outstretched hands” in the form of doctors and nurses who have been caring for patients in these difficult months. He also commends the outstretched hands of administrators, pharmacists, priests, volunteers and others who have given of themselves day and night and without fanfare.
“The present experience,” says the Pope, “has challenged many of our assumptions. We feel poorer and less self-sufficient because we have come to sense our limitations and the restriction of our freedom.”
“The loss of employment, and of opportunities to be close to our loved ones and our regular acquaintances, suddenly opened our eyes to horizons that we had long since taken for granted.”
However, Pope Francis stresses, “now is a good time to recover ‘the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world’.”
In a word, he continues, “until we revive our sense of responsibility for our neighbour and for every person, grave economic, financial and political crises will continue.”
Outstretched hands of love
Returning to this year’s theme, the Pope notes that it is “a summons to responsibility and commitment as men and women who are part of our one human family.”
Even during this pandemic, which has forced people into isolation, the Word of God “constantly impels us to acts of love,” Pope Francis says.
He also describes how the command: ‘Stretch forth your hand to the poor’ “challenges the attitude of those who prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and to remain unmoved by situations of poverty in which they are often complicit.”
“Some hands are outstretched to accumulate money by the sale of weapons that others, including those of children, use to sow death and poverty… Others still, parading a sham respectability, lay down laws which they themselves do not observe.”
Our final goal is love
Concluding his message, the Pope recalls that in the book of Sirach it is written, ‘In everything you do, remember your end’.
He continues by saying, “the ‘end’ of all our actions can only be love. This is the ultimate goal of our journey, and nothing should distract us from it.”
Even a smile, remarks Pope Francis, is something we can share with the poor and is a “source of love and a way of spreading love. An outstretched hand, then, can always be enriched by the smile of those who quietly and unassumingly offer to help, inspired only by the joy of living as one of Christ’s disciples.”