By Linda Bordoni
On Sunday, 13 November, Pope Francis will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with the poor, marking the VI World Day of the Poor that was established by the Pope at the close of the 2016 Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
Celebrated every year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, its aim is to encourage the Christians to “go forth” into the peripheries where so many people struggle with economic and existential problems and to offer service as “a sign of love, the, love shown by Jesus himself.”
The Vatican has organized a series of initiatives promoted by the Dicastery for Evangelization to celebrate the World Day. They include lunch served to Rome’s poor in the Paul VI Hall after Sunday’s Mass as well as a number of long-term initiatives that aim to support families and individuals in difficulty.
As Archbishop Rino Fisichella of the Dicastery for Evangelization explained at the inauguration on Thursday of a mobile health clinic in St. Peter’s Square, at the heart of all the initiatives is Pope Francis’ reminder that poor not only are the ones closest to the Lord, they are agents of evangelization.
“The poor allow us, all of us believers and nonbelievers, to understand that the essence of the Gospel is to be close, to be near, to be in the service of all people who are weak in the world of today,” he said.
The inauguration of the health clinic in Peter’s Square to give free health screenings and medical care, including general check-ups, electrocardiograms, blood tests, flu shots, COVID-19 tests, and screening for HIV, Hepatitis C, and Tuberculosis, to those who might otherwise not have access, comes after two years of pandemic and soaring inflation triggered by the war in Ukraine and the global energy crisis. This service, Archbishop Fisichella agrees, is all the more urgent at a time in which the sheer numbers of poor people are increasing tenfold.
“This is a peculiar moment for all people in the world, not just in this county,” but throughout the world the Archbishop said.
“As Pope Francis repeats to us every day, the poor are close to us all the time. They are not invisible: they are persons who have dignity.”
We need to give back what they have lost due to financial choices, Archbishop Fisichella continued, that have resulted in the enrichment of a small majority of people and the impoverishment of many others.
Another way the Vatican is helping struggling families is by giving boxes of food to parishes around Rome to distribute to families in need and by paying soaring bills.
Fisichella notes that it is not just the homeless who need assistance, but more and more families who are unable to reach the end of the month because they are poor.
Just in Italy, he says, “we have more than five million poor people – that can give you an idea of what can happen in the world,” as Italy is one of the six wealthiest nations.
It should make us think, he added, about what it means for some regions in Asia, Latin America, Africa. It should trigger a wave of solidarity amongst all the nations.
“Poor people do not have a special identity. They are poor, and as such, they must be recognized by everybody.”
The fact that the mobile clinic has been set up in a Square visited by millions of pilgrims and tourists could be seen as something of a “provocation” and a challenge to prevent poverty from going unnoticed.
“It is a challenge,” Archbishop Fisichella agreed, “It is a challenge because millions of people every day and every week of the year are present in Saint Peter’s Squares.”
They come to “contemplate the beauty of this place, but they also can become sensitive to understand the presence of the poor.
“So this is just a small sign, a sign to challenge people to understand that the poor exist and they need our help.”
By Linda Bordoni