In the forgotten corners of our cities
Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on the World Day of the Poor, Sunday, November 13. In his homily, he encouraged the faithful to go to “the forgotten corners of our cities” where “we see great misery and pain and abject poverty”. Here is the English text of the Holy Father’s homily.
while some spoke of the external beauty of the Temple and admired its stones, Jesus draws attention to the troubled and dramatic events that mark human history. The Temple built by hands will pass, like everything in this world, but it is important to know how to discern the times in which we live, in order to remain disciples of the Gospel even in the midst of the upheavals of history.
To show us the way to such discernment, the Lord offers us two exhortations: be careful not to be misled and bear witness.
The first thing Jesus says to his listeners, who are concerned about the “when” and “how” of the terrifying events of which he speaks, is: “Be careful not to be led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘It is I!’ and ‘The time is near!’ Do not pursue them” (lc 21:8). He then adds: “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be afraid” (v. 9). It is especially consoling at the present time. But what does Jesus mean by not being led astray? It is about avoiding the temptation to interpret dramatic events in a superstitious or catastrophic way, as if we were now close to the end of the world and that it was useless to commit to doing good. If we think so, we allow ourselves to be guided by fear, and we may end up looking for answers with morbid curiosity in the ubiquitous quibbles of magic or horoscopes—today many Christians go to magicians; they consult the horoscopes as if they were the voice of God. Or we lean on some last-minute “messiah” who peddles wild, usually conspiracy theories full of doom – conspiracy theories are bad, they cause us a lot of harm. The Spirit of the Lord is not found in such steps: neither is it found in going to a “guru” or in the conspiratorial spirit; the Lord is not there. Jesus warns us: “Be careful not to get lost”. Do not be credulous or fearful, but learn to interpret events with the eyes of faith, certain that by staying close to God “not a hair of your head will perish” (v. 18).
If human history is filled with dramatic events, situations of suffering, wars, revolutions and catastrophes, it is also true, Jesus tells us, that it is not the end of the world (cf. v. 9). This is not a good reason to allow oneself to be paralyzed by fear or to give in to the defeatism of those who think that all is lost and that it is useless to participate actively in life. A disciple of the Lord must not give in to resignation or give in to discouragement, even in the most difficult situations, because our God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always rises again: with him we can lift the look and start over. Christians, then, in the face of trial – whatever the cultural, historical or personal trial – ask, “What is the Lord saying to us through this moment of crisis? — I too ask myself the same question today: What is the Lord saying to us, especially in the midst of this Third World War? What is the Lord telling us? And when bad things happen that cause poverty and suffering, the Christian asks: “What good can I actually do? Do not run away, ask yourself the question: what is the Lord saying to me and what good can I do?
It is no coincidence that Jesus’ second exhortation, after “do not be led astray”, is positive. He says, “This will give you an opportunity to testify” (v. 13). An opportunity to testify. I want to underline this beautiful word: opportunity. It is having the chance to do something good, from our life situation, even when it is not ideal. It is a typically Christian skill not to be a victim of whatever happens — a Christian is not a victim, and the psychology of victimization is not good, it is harmful — but to seize the opportunity that hides in everything that happens to us, the good – however small – that can come even from negative situations. Every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth. Every crisis is an opening to the presence of God, an opening to humanity. But what does the evil spirit want us to do? He wants us to transform the crisis into conflict, and the conflict is always enclosed, without horizon; deadlock. No. Let us live a crisis like human beings, like Christians, let us not transform it into conflict, because every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth. We realize this if we think back to our own history: in life, often our most important advances have been made in the midst of certain crises, in situations of trial, loss of control or insecurity. So we understand the words of encouragement that Jesus speaks today directly to me, to you, to each one of us: when you see troubling events all around you, when wars and conflicts increase, when earthquakes, famines and plagues occur, what are you going to do; what do I do? Do you distract yourself from thinking about it? Are you having fun not getting involved? Do you turn away so as not to see? Do you take the path of worldliness, of not being proactive and of not dealing with these dramatic situations? Do you simply resign yourself to what is happening? Or do these situations become opportunities to testify of the gospel? Each of us should ask ourselves: in the midst of these calamities, in the midst of this terrible third world war, in the midst of the hunger that affects many people, especially children: can I spend my money, my life and its meaning without being brave and moving forward?
Brothers and sisters, on this world day of the poor The word of God is an exhortation to break this inner deafness from which we all suffer and which prevents us from hearing the muffled cry of pain of the most fragile. Today, we too live in troubled societies and witness, as the Gospel tells us, scenes of violence — just think of the cruelty suffered by the Ukrainian people — of injustice and persecution; in addition, we have to deal with the crisis generated by climate change and the pandemic, which has left in its wake not only physical diseases, but also psychological, economic and social ones. Even today, brothers and sisters, we see peoples rising up against peoples and we witness with horror the vast expansion of conflicts and the calamity of war, which causes the death of so many innocent people and multiplies the poison of hatred. Today too, much more than in the past, many of our brothers and sisters, tried and discouraged, migrate in search of hope, and many people experience precariousness due to lack of employment or unfair and unworthy. Today, too, the poor are paying the heaviest price of any crisis. Yet if our heart is sleepy and indifferent, we cannot hear their faint cry of pain, we cannot cry with them and for them, we cannot see how much loneliness and anguish also lurk in the corners forgotten by our cities. We must go to the corners of the cities, for in those hidden and dark corners we see great misery, pain and abject poverty.
Let us take to heart the clear and unequivocal call of the Gospel not to be led astray. Do not listen to the prophets of doom. Let us not be bewitched by the sirens of populism, which exploit people’s real needs with easy and hasty solutions. Let’s not follow the false “messiahs” who, in the name of profit, proclaim recipes that only serve to enrich the few, while condemning the poor to the margins of society. Instead, bear witness. Let’s light the candles of hope in the midst of darkness. In the midst of dramatic situations, let us seize the opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel of joy and to build a fraternal world, or at least a little more fraternal. Let us courageously stand up for justice, the rule of law and peace, and always stand with the weakest. Let’s not retreat to protect ourselves from history, but strive to give this moment in history we are living through, another face.
How to find the strength of all this? In the Lord. By trusting in God our Father, who watches over us. If we open our hearts to him, he will strengthen in us the capacity to love. This is the way: to grow in love. Indeed, after describing scenarios of violence and terror, Jesus concludes by saying: “Not a hair of your head shall perish” (v. 18). but what does that mean? It means he is with us; he walks with us to guide us. Do I have this conviction? Are you convinced that the Lord is walking with you? We should always repeat it to ourselves, especially in the most difficult moments: God is a Father, and he is at my side. He knows me and loves me; he does not sleep, but watches over me and takes care of me. If I stay near him, not a hair of my head will perish. And how can I answer that? Looking at our brothers and sisters in need; looking at the throwaway culture that rejects the poor and those with few opportunities; a culture that rejects the old and the unborn…looking at them all; as a Christian, what should I do at this time?
Since he loves us, let us resolve to love him in the most abandoned of his children. The Lord is there. There is an old tradition, even in some Italian regions, and I’m sure some people still follow it: to leave an empty chair for the Lord at Christmas dinner, and to believe that he will surely come knocking at the door in the person of a poor person in need. Does your heart have room for such people? Is there a place in my heart for such people? Or are we too busy attending our friends, attending social events and other engagements that will never leave us space for such people. Let us take care of the poor, in whom we find Jesus, who made himself poor for us (cf. 2 Horn 8:9). He identifies with the poor. Let us feel challenged to care for them, lest even a hair of their head perish. Let us not content ourselves, like the people of the Gospel, with admiring the beautiful stones of the temple, ignoring The True Temple of God, our fellow human beings, especially the poor, in whose face, in whose story, in whose wounds, we encounter Jesus. He told us. Let’s never forget that.