Pope Francis shares lunch with the poor in Rome on the World Day of the Poor Pope Francis shares lunch with the poor in Rome on the World Day of the Poor 

Sant'Egidio President Marco Impagliazzo on Pope Francis' 'poor Church for the poor'

As we commemorate the ten-year anniversary since the College of Cardinals elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio to lead the Catholic Church, on 13 March 2013, we speak to Marco Impagliazzo, President of the Community of Sant'Egidio, on Pope Francis' closeness to the poor, the discarded, and those on the peripheries.

By Deborah Castellano Lubov

As we celebrate ten years, exactly, of Pope Francis leading the Church, since his election 13 March 2013, we speak to the President of the Community of Sant'Egidio, Marco Impagliazzo.

In the interview, the Community's President, who has overseen various initiatives in which the Holy Father has participated over the course of this decade, including the interfaith Spirit of Assisi events which began with St. Pope John Paul II, sheds light on Pope Francis' particularly poignant attention toward the poor, discarded, and those on the peripheries.

Pope Francis, Marco Impagliazzo, Religious Leaders at Sant'Egidio Meeting for Peace
Pope Francis, Marco Impagliazzo, Religious Leaders at Sant'Egidio Meeting for Peace

Ten years ago, at the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis said he wanted 'a poor Church for the poor.' It is true that at the heart of Church's Social Doctrine, has always been closeness to the poor. But in your opinion, as President of the Community of Sant'Egidio, which does so much for the poor, what has Pope Francis brought that is particularly significant on the subject of the Church and the poor?

The pontificate of Pope Francis has been a surprise since the day of his election. It has been ten years of surprises. Positive surprises, of course. We must always remember that he called himself the Pope who came from the ends of the world. But he is also a Pope in the great tradition of the Church. He spoke of the poor, he put the poor at the centre, he wanted a Church for the poor, and of the poor.

Pope Francis at Community of Sant'Egidio's Meeting for Peace
Pope Francis at Community of Sant'Egidio's Meeting for Peace

He, however, brought this novelty in his style, in his words, because after all, even St. Pope John XXIII, even before the Second Vatican Council, spoke of 'the Church of all, and particularly of the poor.' So, one must never think that Pope Francis is not in the great tradition of the Church, on the contrary! But he has brought his originality to the throne of Peter! It is the first time we have an Argentinean Pope, who comes from Latin America, so we must also get used to a new style, a new culture, after so many Popes who came from Italy or the European continent.

I would say that his words and his privileged relationship with the poor, for us in the Community of Sant'Egidio, have been a blessing, an encouragement, a push to be more and more on the side of the poor.

Is there a particular initiative that you feel has been most fruitful? We know that the joint efforts, also between what used to be the Office of Papal Charities, now the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, and the Community of Sant'Egidio, for the benefit of the homeless, in this decade, have been very significant, especially for the homeless...

Yes, it is very nice that the colonnade of St. Peter's, which symbolically represents the great embrace of the Church for everyone, has been populated, during the years of Pope Francis' pontificate, by so many homeless people, the poor, who have found a welcome there.

And then, let me tell you something, as far as the Community of Sant'Egidio experience is concerned; for me, it is a truly beautiful and significant sign to have received as a gift from the Pope a building owned by the Holy See, right next to the colonnade, Palazzo Migliori, where today more than twenty people live, have found a home, to sleep, eat and find the possibility of a redemption for their lives. Just as the Pope, the cardinals, his collaborators, and the bishops have a home in the Vatican, so too, do the poor have one!

Pope Francis visits Palazzo Migliori
Pope Francis visits Palazzo Migliori

The Holy Father, in these ten years, has often warned us all against the 'throwaway culture.' Why was his message so significant? And what struck you the most, among all Pope Francis' gestures of closeness to the so-called 'discarded,' such as the poor, migrants and the peripheries?

The Pope has put at the centre of international attention all those people who are not normally at the centre, they are on the margins, on the fringes! And from the very beginning, he told us that the centre is best understood from the periphery, with what happens in the peripheries of the world, whether they are human or existential peripheries.

Pope Francis tells us the truth of life in this world, with his focus on the questions of the discarded, the life situations of so many discarded people. We have spoken of the homeless, migrants.... It is good to have put these problems at the centre! It means drawing the attention of peoples, and not just governments, to the fact that there is a need for great solidarity in this world to move forward together.

This became very clear at the time of the pandemic, when the Pope warned us with great force that we are all in the same boat and that we can only be saved together. Again, I have been very impressed all the times that the Pope has chosen, on so many trips, to go to refugee camps, especially in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, and other situations, to meet all those people who are truly 'discarded', who live years of their lives waiting for a permit, waiting for their right to migrate, to be recognised.

And is there one trip in particular that you remember?

I would like to recall Pope Francis' trip to the island of Lampedusa at the very beginning of his pontificate. He took up, at that moment, the most important problem that not only Europe is experiencing, but also other regions of the world; I am thinking of the United States, also many countries in Asia... The problem that I am saying is that of the reception of migrants and the many rejections of migrants, more or less soft, that are made... This message has remained central throughout his pontificate. We of the Community of Sant'Egidio have been able to verify it through the humanitarian corridors, that is, to verify how in the end the Pope urges us to welcome and integrate migrants and how he urges the whole world to consider the welcoming of migrants as a necessity and also as an opportunity, for the societies of the places where these people arrive. And this is also told to us by his experience, that of 'Pope Bergoglio,' being himself the son of migrants, and after all, if a son of migrants has become Pope, why reject migrants?

The Community of Sant'Egidio organizes its annual interreligious meeting in the 'Spirit of Assisi', with a long history dating back to St. Pope John Paul II, a meeting in which Pope Francis has participated on numerous occasions. How has the Pope's ministry, the focus on peace and on interreligious dialogue been particularly significant, especially now that war has broken out in Ukraine? And not only Ukraine, but wars in so many places....

The Pope's commitment to peace through inter-religious dialogue, as well as meetings with exponents of the world's great religions, are part of a fundamental line that the Catholic Church has taken since the Second Vatican Council, from the time of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate. Pope Francis, as I said at the beginning, lives his Petrine ministry in the wake of the Church's great tradition. And from the Council onwards, over the last 60 years, meetings of this kind have multiplied, right up to the prophetic intuition of St John Paul II to convene the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986.

Pope Francis welcomed this fact, this historical event, as a providential event in today's world, marked by so many lacerations and conflicts. And paradoxically, it was he, the Pope who came from Argentina, from the end of the world, who opened many paths of dialogue with Islam.

Pope Francis with Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi in 2019
Pope Francis with Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi in 2019

I think of the Abu Dhabi declaration of 2019 and I think of his trip to Iraq two years ago, his meeting with the great leader of the Shiites, Al Sistani. I think of the many meetings and trips that the Pope has made, in which he has encouraged the so-called 'spirit of Assisi'. And all this to say what? That religions have at their heart the message of peace, that this message must be lived concretely and must be communicated to peoples. Because today men and women of religion have so much space in people's hearts, they can and must speak to them!

Those in which the Pope has participated are meetings in which the people have always been present. They are not meetings of an elite, but they are meetings of the people, because peace is made by all.

On these ten years of the pontificate, is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to add the theme of the outgoing Church. Pope Francis has made a great contribution to addressing the crisis that the Church is experiencing in so many parts of the world, let's say especially in the West, where precisely the path of evangelisation has become slower, more difficult in recent years.

In the last decade, however, Pope Francis has relaunched this great theme of the Church's mission of being open, of opening doors, of going outside even the many mental schemes or language patterns that we have. We listen to the way Francis preaches, the way he talks about the Gospel, the way he addresses the faithful during the Sunday Angelus.

Here, it is a new language and a language that starts from the Gospel, that starts from the Word of God and touches people's hearts in its simplicity, but also in its essentiality, in its radicality.

And so, in this sense, what the Pope is doing is inviting all Catholics to read the Gospel every day and to live and communicate it, and so this commits us all, to carrying out precisely the mission of the Church in this world, because there is much need today of the Church's mission to mend the many lacerations that are being created in our society, even to the point of wars.

Pope with Ukrainian children at General Audience since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.
Pope with Ukrainian children at General Audience since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine.

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11 March 2023, 14:22