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‘When you love the poor, you know their needs,’ papal almoner says

Pope Francis joins some 1,300 guests for lunch in the Vatican audience hall on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)
Pope Francis joins some 1,300 guests for lunch in the Vatican audience hall on the World Day of the Poor Nov. 13, 2022. (CNS photo/Remo Casilli, Reuters)

(OSV News) — Pope Francis will celebrate the World Day of the Poor for the seventh time on Nov. 19. The 2023 World Day of the Poor will be traditionally hosted by the Dicastery for the Service of Charity.

“Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor (Tob 4:7),” the pope urges in his message for this year’s World Day of the Poor, following what he called a “little known text of the Old Testament, yet one that is charming and full of wisdom.”

“These words help us to understand the essence of our witness. By reflecting on the Book of Tobit … we can better appreciate the message the sacred writer wished to communicate,” the pontiff said.

“After seven years of celebrating World Day of the Poor, the Holy Father shapes the celebration differently,” Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity and the pope’s almoner, told OSV News Nov. 16.

“This time, through the Book of Tobit, the pope tells us how to live with the poor — to never look away,” he said, “but also to share a meal with them.”

Pope Francis reminds in his message for World Day of the Poor the words from the Book of Tobit: “Go, my child, and bring whatever poor person you may find of our people among the exiles of Nineveh, who is wholeheartedly mindful of God, and he shall eat together with me. I will wait for you, until you come back (Tob 2:1-2).”

“How meaningful it would be if, on the Day of the Poor, this concern of Tobit were also our own!” the pope said, inviting all faithful to share a meal with the poor on that very day, after going to church for the Eucharistic meal. “How much more visible would our fraternity be, if we shared our festive meal with those who are in need!” the pontiff stressed.

After celebrating the Eucharist in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 19, the pope along with Cardinal Krajewski will sit down with the poor in Paul VI audience hall to share a meal. “Let’s make room for the poor in our houses,” Cardinal Krajewski said.

The cardinal, who regularly shares meals with the homeless and poor in his Vatican apartment, said that in his homeland of Poland, there is a tradition of an empty place for the poor and the needy at the Christmas vigil feast, called Wigilia in Poland.

“Let’s make it an early Wigilia this year,” he said. “The Holy Father didn’t know this Polish tradition, but still he does exactly that — leaves an empty place at the table just in case someone wanted to join, someone who doesn’t have anything to eat,” the cardinal emphasized.

He recalled to OSV News how during the Synod on Synodality in Rome he invited 16 homeless people to his apartment for lunch. Polish Cardinal Grzegorz Rys of Lódz and Aleksander Banka, Polish professor and synod lay delegate, also were there. “I told the poor at the table that the synod is aimed to listen, and to see whether the church is church, or maybe the caricature of the church,” he said. The cardinal asked the poor to say what they expected from the church.

“You know what the first one answered? ‘I want to only thank the church, I have everything,'” the cardinal said. “How come everything, I thought — the only thing this man had was maybe the tent!” Cardinal Krajewski stressed.

“The other said: ‘I only want the church’s love,'” the Vatican’s almoner said, adding, “and who loves, knows the needs of a person he or she loves.”

“If we will love the poor, we will know what they need. Every mother knows what to do with her children, even though they didn’t graduate from the school of motherhood — she knows that a hug heals, that a child needs to be fed and clothed. If we will love the poor, we will know what to do,” the cardinal stressed.

He told OSV News that sometimes we feel great, because we gave a homeless person a dollar. “What is a dollar if what he needs is a conversation?” he said.

Often, homeless people need an identity. “Because only with that, they will have a possibility to find a job, a home, a place to stay,” the cardinal said, stressing that the Vatican tries to do exactly that — first, bring back the dignity of a person, and then help him or her stand on their feet.

“When you love the poor, you can’t just throw a coin to their hat. You will sit with them. Talk to them. Be with them,” he said.

A papal lunch with the poor will be offered by Hilton Hotels Italy Nov. 19. The Dicastery for the Service of Charity will assist for the day with medical services for the poor at the Mother of Mercy Outpatient Clinic, located at the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

“The clinic is open all day throughout this week. Even 150 people daily are treated by the doctors of all specialties that on a daily basis are not available for those poor people — dentists, gynecologists, cardiologists, dermatologists,” Cardinal Krajewski said.

“On Monday I visited the Holy Father,” Cardinal Krajewski said of a Nov. 13 visit. “I told him every poor person gets a prescription in the clinic and gets the medicine for free in the Vatican pharmacy. I told Pope Francis that we spend 20,000 euros ($21,700) monthly — and he replied — ‘only that?!'”

Cardinal Krajewski said the pope’s point is that help is something that cannot be measured — that no matter how much money you need to spend, you aim to help a person, and that’s what matters.

In moments of criticism about the Vatican’s outreach to the poor, which also come in the dicastery, Cardinal Krajewski said he is comfortable going against the tide, including those critical of turning the Vatican into the “homeless ground.” “The Holy Father told me — it won’t be easy, but when you don’t know what to do, ask what would Jesus do, and just do it.”

Paulina Guzik is international editor of OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @Guzik_Paulina.

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