VATICAN CITY — To recognize and address the poverty of others, Christians must become poor like the figure of Tobit from the Hebrew Bible, Pope Francis said.
Tobit, a blind and elderly man who dedicated his life to the service of others, “can show practical concern for the poor because he has personally known what it is to be poor,” the pope wrote in his message for the November celebration of the World Day of the Poor.
The papal message was published June 13, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, patron of the poor.
Christians are called to “acknowledge every poor person and every form of poverty, abandoning the indifference and the banal excuses we make to protect our illusory well-being,” Pope Francis wrote. “Regardless of the color of their skin, their social standing, the place from which they came, if I myself am poor, I can recognize my brothers and sisters in need of my help.”
The theme for World Day of the Poor 2023 is a passage from the Book of Tobit: “Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor.”
In his message for the world day, which will be celebrated Nov. 19, Pope Francis listed an array of cultural phenomena that prevent people from caring for the poor: greater pressure to live affluently, a tendency to disregard suffering, virtual reality overtaking real life and a sense of haste that prevents people from stopping to care for others. He offered the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stops to help a man in the street beaten by robbers, to counter the hangups many people have against helping the poor.
The parable “is not simply a story from the past; it continues to challenge each of us in the here and now of our daily lives,” he said. “It is easy to delegate charity to others, yet the calling of every Christian is to become personally involved.”
Pope Francis also called for a “serious and effective commitment on the part of political leaders and legislators” to defend the rights enjoyed by all people to food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest and social services as outlined in St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth).
While recognizing the need to pressure public institutions to defend the poor, the pope praised volunteers who serve the common good in a “spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity,” saying “it is of no use to wait passively to receive everything ‘from on high.’”
The pope also pointed to the way poverty is exacerbated by inhumane working conditions, inadequate pay, the “scourge” of job insecurity and by workplace accidents resulting in death. Young people, he said, are also afflicted by a cultural poverty that destroys their self-worth and leads to frustration and even suicide.
He urged people not to fall into “rhetorical excess” or merely consider statistics when speaking of the poor, but to remember that “the poor are persons; they have faces, stories, hearts and souls.”
“Caring for the poor is more than simply a matter of a hasty handout,” Pope Francis said, “it calls for reestablishing the just interpersonal relationships that poverty harms.”
Calling for a care for the poor marked by “Gospel realism,” the pope invited Christians to discern the genuine needs of the poor rather than their own personal hopes and aspirations.
“What the poor need is certainly our humanity, our hearts open to love,” he said.
Ahead of the World Day of the Poor, the Vatican’s “Madre di Misericordia” clinic extended its hours.
Idris, who sleeps on a sidewalk a couple blocks from the Vatican, waited more or less patiently under the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square to speak to his physician, Dr. Massimo Ralli.
The doctor was giving interviews Nov. 13 about the Vatican’s “Madre di Misericordia” (Mother of Mercy) clinic while Idris waited to get a nasal spray to help with his cold.
Ralli, director of the clinic desired by Pope Francis and established by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, said the number of poor seeking assistance each month has increased continuously since it was opened in 2016.
“We’re seeing about 1,500 people a month now. A year ago, it was 700 patients,” he said. Sixty physicians volunteer their services at the clinic each month, along with dozens of nurses and lab technicians.
In the week before the Catholic Church’s celebration Nov. 19 of World Day of the Poor, the clinic was offering extended hours and visits by a variety of specialists, including cardiologists, psychiatrists, dentists, pain specialists, gynecologists and podiatrists.
Most of the patients come in with problems related to sleeping under the colonnade or on the street, Ralli said, such as colds, pneumonia, joint pain and toothaches. But the medical exams also can reveal heart problems, diabetes and tumors.
Running the clinic and seeing patients, he said, “is something beautiful because it allows you not only to treat disease, but to offer yourself in service.”
The clinic serves as a first aid station and as a general practitioner’s office, offering physicals, blood tests, vaccines, ultrasounds and common prescription medicines. The doctors also do referrals for patients who need hospitalization or more specialized care.