This Sunday 15th November, the Church around the world will mark the 4th World Day of the Poor and Pope Francis has chosen ‘Stretch out your hand to the poor’ (Sirach 7:32) as the theme for this year’s commemoration. His message this year is both moving and challenging, something that can often be said for much of what the Holy Father writes, and three key points which resonated with me as I reflected upon his words.
Firstly, Pope Francis reminds us that prayer and service of the poor and marginalised are two sides of the same coin which ought never be separated. Indeed, he writes ‘prayer attains its goal when accompanied by service to the poor’. For Christians, our prayer is integral to growing in relationship with God but we are also called to see God in the people around us, especially the poor, created in his image. Or as Pope Francis writes, ‘I reiterate this basic truth in the life of the Church, for the poor are and always will be with us to help us welcome Christ’s presence into our daily lives’.
Secondly, we cannot allow an often relentless wave of negative news to make us indifferent or desensitise us to the pain and suffering of others. This has been a theme Pope Francis returns to time and time again, seeing it as a fundamental flaw of our societies today. Those we accompany often live in the fringes of society, as they are banned from working and made destitute at the hands of a flawed asylum system. Often they, and many others like them, are vilified by those in power, simply for seeking sanctuary, refuge and safety. Pope Francis issues a stark reminder for us to keep our hearts open and be committed to accompanying others, never allowing their suffering to be forgotten: ‘We cannot feel “alright” when any member of the human family is left behind and in the shadows. The silent cry of so many poor men, women and children should find the people of God at the forefront, always and everywhere, in efforts to give them a voice, to protect and support them in the face of hypocrisy and so many unfulfilled promises, and to invite them to share in the life of the community’.
Finally, he offers us a cause for hope. The current pandemic has not prevented from stretching out their hands to others in need. It has reminded us of our own poverty and reliance on others to survive. Whilst some may seek to turn in on themselves and block out this reality, for so many there has been an outpouring of love and support for those who have needed it. This is something we have certainly seen in our work at JRS UK, particularly since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, when so many of our supporters showed such generosity in donating to our Emergency Hardship fund. for refugees.
Pope Francis speaks of the many hands that have reached out to others: those of healthcare workers caring for the sick, neighbours supporting those who were shielding, volunteers offering support to the homeless and countless others. He describes ‘a great litany of good works’ in which ‘hands defied contagion and fear in order to offer support and consolation’.
We are always called to stretch out our hands to those who are less fortunate than ourselves, but at this time it feels far more necessary than ever. The demands of the pandemic affects each of us differently but, as always, it is those most marginalised – such as our destitute refugee friends, and our friends held in immigration detention – who bear the biggest burden. In the coming weeks we are likely to see the return of Christmas adverts to our television screens, encouraging us to buy the latest expensive gadgets or perfumes which will bring joy to our loved ones. Whilst it is important for us to give gifts to our friends and family, can we also look further and widen our boundaries allowing the marginalised, the destitute and the poor into our community and our giving? Can we remember that rather than the slick marketing and Santa suits, the real meaning of the coming celebrations is that God took on human form and was born into the poverty of a stable?
Will we continue to stretch out our hands to the poor?
Nick Hanrahan is Community Outreach Officer at JRS UK
This World Day of the Poor why not give a Refugee Gift with JRS UK? Your gift will delight your loved ones, and improve the lives of destitute refugees accompanied by JRS UK.