Caritas Internationalis message for World Day of the Poor

From Monsignor Pierre Cibambo, Ecclesiastical Assistant, Caritas Internationalis, Rome

Dear Friends,

On 15 November 2020, we are all invited to celebrate the World Day of the Poor with Pope Francis.

The message this year is: “Stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sir 7:32).” This is an appropriate call for all of us in a year when many of us have closed ourselves away from the world to protect ourselves from the Coronavirus pandemic.

In spite of the enormous global challenges of 2020, Caritas has shown that love does not go on lockdown and close itself away from the poor and vulnerable at their time of great need. The mission of Caritas to listen and accompany is powered forward by our many volunteers and staff who give themselves selflessly to building a better world. Our Popes have reminded us that “Caritas is at the heart of the Church” and the World Day of the Poor is a moment to remember and deepen our dedication to placing the poor at the centre, to raising them up and to ensuring their voices are heard. At the General Assembly in May 2019, Caritas delegates approved “Caritas at the heart of the Church” as one of the five strategic orientations for our work as a confederation for the following four years. Our Representative Council has given further guidance to our confederation on how to be at the heart of the Church: “Ensure that people living in poverty are active participants in building an inclusive and equitable society, a transformative Caritas and a welcoming Church”.

But what does this mean for each and every one of us as part of the Caritas family? The answers are not always easy, but require an attitude which embodies humble listening and solidarity.

Let us not forget that this special day in honour of our brothers and sisters in need is named “World Day OF the Poor” and not “World Day FOR the Poor”. We are not only sharing part of our wealth to the poor, we are also receiving from them. In a true Christian community, there are no members who are just giving, and others who are just receiving. There are only neighbours who share, because in Christ we are all one. The hand we outstretch to the poor, is not only a hand that distributes, but also a hand in need. We need the poor as much as they need us. They challenge us to become increasingly truer witnesses of Christ. When we encounter the poor, listen to them and accompany them it is they who evangelise us. The poor invite us to open our hearts and to transform our narrow, worldly view to see Christ in their presence here on earth.

“We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them.” Evangelii Gaudium 198.

Caritas Internationalis president, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, has said, “The big lesson of my life as a pastor has been to go towards the poor, not bearing words, but with a heart ready to listen to and learn from them. Before saying even one single word, it’s important to understand the person who is in front of you. By respectfully listening to the poor, you affirm their dignity.”

As the World Day of the Poor approaches, wherever possible and appropriate, we encourage you to take action to prepare for the celebration of this day in your respective local Churches and Caritas organisations. The national Caritas can mobilise the diocesan Caritas, who in turn can liaise with parishes to promote this important day that represents a golden opportunity to give a voice and place to the poor in our Caritas organisations and within Christians communities. We encourage you, our Caritas friends around the world, to reflect on what we have learnt from the poor on a personal and community level and ensure they are at the centre of our thoughts and actions on that day.

A hand held out is a sign; a sign that immediately speaks of closeness, solidarity and love. On the World Day of the Poor, together, we will reach out our hands as one Caritas in global solidarity to build inclusive and equitable societies, a transformative Caritas and a welcoming Church.

Yours in Christ,

Monsignor Pierre Cibambo