In 2017, Pope Francis declared the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time as World Day of the Poor (WDP). This year the Church will observe its fourth WDP on 15 November 2020. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen the theme: “Stretch Forth Your Hand to the Poor” (Sir 7:32) and in his message, the Holy Father invites everyone “to keep their gaze fixed on the poor, especially during this global crisis.”
Pope Francis reminds us that “time devoted to prayer cannot be a reason for us to neglect our neighbour in need.” In relation to this, I remember reading about St Vincent De Paul (whose feast day falls on 27 September) saying that service to the poor has to be performed without any delay. When we set time for prayer and a poor man in need knocks at our door, do not hesitate to reach out to him. Rest assured that God is actually not neglected, nor our prayers interrupted, by our service to the poor. When we abandon our prayer session abruptly in order to assist the poor, our outreach is a continuation of that prayer. In other words, charity should always take precedence over anything else in our lives. That is why the Holy Father says “prayer to God and solidarity with the poor and suffering are inseparable.” In whatever circumstance, we should not neglect our service to the poor and we should always be in solidarity with them, especially during this pandemic.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase across the world, we are constantly being challenged economically, financially, politically and socially. In this time of trial, it is really tough to keep our gaze fixed on the service to the poor. The Holy Father stresses that we should not be selfish, but instead he reminds us that “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.” We should not be indifferent towards the poor. Our eyes should always become capable of gazing at the goodness in them.
Pope Francis acknowledged the many “outstretched hands” in the form of front-liners (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, priests, volunteers, etc.) who have been caring for patients day and night during this difficult time. The Holy Father reminded us that “now is a good time, as we need each other to be an “outstretched hand” and “revive our sense of responsibility for others and the world.”
As we reflect on the WDP theme for this year, the Holy Father “challenges the attitudes of those who prefer to keep their hands in their pockets and to remain unmoved” instead of stretching out their hands to the poor. He warned against all those who have their hands outstretched, only to accumulate money in wrong and unpleasant ways.
Pope Francis concludes his message by saying that our ultimate goal in life, is to love, and nothing should distract or separate us from this. He added that the outstretched hands can be enriched by “a smile, which is something that we can share with the poor and is a source of love and a way of spreading love,” as Christ’s disciple. Mary, the Mother of the Poor, always understands the difficulties and suffering of the poor. We too, are called to pray for them and to pray for the grace to enable us to outstretch our hands for their needs.
(Extract from the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ message on the 4th World Day of the Poor 2020).
Rev, Fr. George Packiasamy