Pope Francis arrives at lunch with poor people in the Vatican for the World Day of the Poor in 2019 Pope Francis arrives at lunch with poor people in the Vatican for the World Day of the Poor in 2019  (AFP or licensors)

Archbishop Fisichella on Pope's Message: Show humanity to the poor

The Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, comments on Pope Francis' Message for the Seventh World Day of the Poor, which this year will be celebrated on 19 November.

By Antonella Palermo

"A great river of poverty is traversing our cities and swelling to the point of overflowing": this is the disturbing image with which Pope Francis' Message for the 7th World Day of the Poor, presented today, 13 June, opens.

Archbishop Rino Fisichella, Pro-Prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelisation, presents this year's Message to Vatican News, highlighting that the poor are not a number, but human beings, to be welcomed and supported, not only with economic aid but also by nourishing friendship, starting from the agendas of political leaders. 

Archbishop Fisichella, in the Message for the Seventh World Day of the Poor, the story of Tobias, a biblical character, is chosen to reaffirm that, in the face of the poor, one cannot use indifference, nor rhetoric, nor delegate charity to others

In fact, let us not forget that the Pope is giving us this Message while he is in the hospital, and therefore shares suffering with so many other poor people. The Message he is giving us is of great topicality because first of all he is telling us that it is the testament that a father leaves to his son and therefore there is this transmission of important contents that we cannot forget. And, among these, it tells us there is the attention to the poor, which is not a rhetorical attention. It is an attention that touches every single person, following the example of Jesus who responded to every single sick person who approached him, and therefore to the crowds, by looking at the deep need they had.

Here, in front of the poor, the Pope tells us, there is no rhetoric. The poor are not a statistical number, they are people who above all desire our closeness and sense of humanity.

In the Message, we read that the historical moment we are living seems to silence, or ignore, those who live in poverty. Why is this happening?

The Pope says that too much attention is given to other issues: finance, the economy, entertainment. And so, in the face of these issues, silence is placed on what can annoy, on what shakes the conscience, on what also forces one to change one's life and to consider what is essential in people's lives. On the one hand, I would say, the Pope once again provokes us to touch the deep meaning of life. It is no coincidence that several times the Pope says that the poor evangelise us. This expression means nothing other than that the poor make us see and touch what is essential in life. On this, one cannot put silence, because our personal existence is at stake.

The Message also contains a warning for a "serious and effective political and legislative commitment". In concrete terms, what could be the proposals, in this respect, so that the wish of Pacem in Terris, whose 60th anniversary we are celebrating, becomes a reality?

I would say that this should be twofold. I fear that many times governmental, legislative actions only focus on financial and economic aid. This is a first step, it is important because destitution, poverty is also determined by not being able to make ends meet, as the Message explicitly says. But that is only one part. There is another part that relates more to a cultural dimension, namely the need, also through the law, to change mentality, to change what is often the attitude of indifference or contempt that then leads to marginalisation. This is a cultural phenomenon. Therefore, before worrying about a financial law that is designed to provide material aid, which will then end, and often ends very quickly because it is too contingent, we forget that there is an education, a training and this must be done in all places: it must take place in the school, it must take place in the family, it must take place where there is a meeting place, where people grow together. At the legislative level, I believe we can and must also intervene on this training that restores dignity to each person.

So we need not be afraid of the poor ...

No, of the poor we must not be afraid! We must need the poor. We must rediscover the poor as a need that belongs to us, because they make us discover the profound humanity that is so often forgotten, or put in a corner and no longer allows us to live life in a profound, essential manner, and also, I would say, full of joy and responsibility.

The Message explicitly addresses the theme of work with all the unresolved problems that affect the increase in poverty, the creating, also, of new poor. In your opinion, is it sufficiently included as a priority in the agendas of political leaders today?

I am not afraid. I am glad that the Pope wanted to insist precisely on this category because there are still too many perplexities and too many timidities in the world of work. Just think of the deaths in the workplace that affect the whole world and touch the hearts and minds precisely because there are no rules, or they are not observed, and obviously the victims are also the most innocent ones. With this reminder, the Pope once again provoke us to look at those weaker categories without which we would not have the need to express life and the society within which we live. Workers, the world of work, are not an appendix, they are a driving force for a country, and this must be considered because it leads us to reconsider a social responsibility that seems to me to be increasingly lacking due to the imposition of those individual rights that then lead to indifference towards a social responsibility.

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13 June 2023, 12:03