Pope Francis on World Day of the Poor: Do not listen to ‘prophets of doom’ but instead ‘light candles of hope.’
In a challenging and inspiring homily for the sixth World Day of the Poor, Pope Francis advised Christians to “not listen to the prophets of doom” at a time when humanity is suffering from multiple crises including war, climate change, the Covid pandemic, and social and economic injustice. He called on them instead to “light candles of hope in the midst of darkness” and to “seize opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel of joy and to build a more fraternal world.”
Francis has always been concerned for the plight of the poor—as a Jesuit, as archbishop of Buenos Aires and now as pope. Since his election as pope in 2013, he has sought in countless ways, both in the Vatican and internationally, to draw attention to the world’s poor. As part of that effort in 2017, he decreed that the Catholic Church worldwide would set aside one Sunday every year (the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time) to “reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel” and to take steps to address poverty locally and globally.
In his homily, Francis highlighted the countless crises that have increased poverty in today’s world and caused greater suffering to the poor.
This Sunday morning, Nov. 13, Francis presided at Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for the World Day of the Poor. Because of the pandemic, it was the first time since 2019 that he was able to celebrate this Mass attended by a large congregation that included 1,300 poor people and members of organizations that work for and with the poor, like Caritas and Sant’Egidio. He offered the poor people a free lunch after Mass in the Paul VI audience hall and went personally to greet them.
It was also the first time since 2019 that another initiative of his, the health clinic in Peter’s Square, was able to provide for one week (Nov. 7-13) free health screenings and medical care— including general check-ups, electrocardiograms, blood tests, flu shots, Covid tests, and screening for HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis—to those who might otherwise not have access.
In his homily, Francis highlighted the countless crises that have increased poverty in today’s world and caused greater suffering to the poor. He mentioned especially climate change and the “cruel and brutal” war in “martyred Ukraine” now in its 236rd day, which he referred to several times because of the destruction and loss of life it is causing and the number of countries— more than 50—now involved in some way.
Commenting on the Gospel of the day (Luke 21), where Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and draws attention to the troubled and dramatic events that mark human history, Pope Francis said, “it is important to be able to discern the times in which we live, in order to remain disciples of the Gospel even amid the upheavals of history.”
“It is important to be able to discern the times in which we live, in order to remain disciples of the Gospel even amid the upheavals of history.”
“To show us the path to such discernment”, he said, Jesus “offers us two exhortations: beware that you are not led astray and bear witness.”
He said Jesus first tells us, “Beware that you are not led astray.” This means “avoiding the temptation to interpret dramatic events in a superstitious or catastrophic way, as if we are now close to the end of the world and it is useless to commit ourselves to doing good.” Francis said, “If we think in this way, we let ourselves be guided by fear, and we may end up looking for answers with morbid curiosity in the ever-present chicanery of magic or horoscopes” or “rely on some last-minute ‘messiah’ who peddles wild theories, usually conspiratorial and full of doom and gloom.” He reminded believers that “The spirit of the Lord is not to be found in such approaches” and said, “Jesus warns us to not be gullible or fearful but learn how to interpret events with the eyes of faith, certain that by remaining close to God ‘not a hair of your head will perish’ (Luke 21.18).”
Pope Francis said, “If human history is filled with dramatic events, situations of suffering, wars, revolutions and disasters, it is also true, Jesus tells us, that that is not the end of the world” and so “it is not a good reason for letting ourselves be paralyzed by fear or for yielding to the defeatism of those who think that everything is lost and that it is useless to take an active part in life.”
The Jesuit pope told those in the basilica and a vastly greater global audience following on television and the social media, “A disciple of the Lord should not yield to resignation or give in to discouragement, even in the most difficult situations, for our God is the God of resurrection and hope, who always raises up.” For this reason, he said, “Christians in the face of trials ask: What is the Lord saying to us, especially in the midst of this third world war? What is the Lord saying to us? And when evil events occur that give rise to poverty and suffering, the Christian asks: ‘What good can I concretely do?’ Do not run away, ask yourself the question: ‘What is the Lord saying to me and what good can I do?’”
“When evil events occur that give rise to poverty and suffering, the Christian asks: ‘What good can I concretely do?’”
He said Jesus’ second piece of advice—“do not be led astray”—is positive “because he tells us ‘This will give you an opportunity to testify.’ It means having the chance to do something good, starting from our situation in life, even when it is not ideal.” Francis emphasized, “It is a skill typically Christian not to be a victim of everything that happens, but to seize the opportunity that lies hidden in everything that befalls us, the good that can come about even from negative situations. Every crisis is a possibility and offers opportunities for growth. We realize this if we think back on our own history: In life, often our most important steps forward were taken in the midst of certain crises, in situations of trial, loss of control or insecurity.”
Pope Francis said these words of Jesus give encouragement to us today as we see “troubling events all around, while wars and conflicts are on the rise, while earthquakes, famines and plagues are happening.” They encourage us because they enable us to see “these situations” as “opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel.”
He said Jesus’ words call us “to break through that inner deafness which prevents us from hearing the stifled cry of pain of the frailest.”
Drawing attention to the dramatic situation in today’s world, Francis said, “we too live in troubled societies and are witnesses, as the Gospel told us, to scenes of violence, injustice and persecution,” and “we must face the crisis generated by climate change and the pandemic, which has left in its wake not only physical, but also psychological, economic and social maladies.” Moreover, he said, “Even now we see peoples rising up against peoples and we witness with trepidation 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.”
Then referring to another category of poor people, the millions of migrants in the world, Francis said, “Today, much more than in the past, many of our brothers and sisters, sorely tested and disheartened, migrate in search of hope, and many people experience insecurity due to the lack of employment or unjust and undignified working conditions. Today too, the poor pay the heaviest price in any crisis.”
“It is a skill typically Christian not to be a victim of everything that happens, but to seize the opportunity that lies hidden in everything that befalls us, the good that can come about even from negative situations.”
Francis continued, “If our heart is deadened 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 lie hidden in the forgotten corners of our cities.”
At this point, Francis issued a stirring call to Christians worldwide: “Let us take to heart the clear and unmistakable summons in the Gospel not to be led astray. Let us not listen to prophets of doom. Let us not be enchanted by the sirens of populism, which exploit people’s real needs by facile and hasty solutions. Let us not follow the false ‘messiahs’ who, in the name of profit, proclaim recipes useful only for increasing the wealth of a few, while condemning the poor to the margins of society.
“Instead, let us bear witness. Let us light candles of hope in the midst of darkness. Amid dramatic situations, let us seize opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel of joy and to build a more fraternal world. Let us commit ourselves courageously to justice, the rule of law and peace, and stand at the side of the weakest. Let us not step back to protect ourselves from history, but strive to give this moment of history a different face.”
He concluded his homily by reminding believers that they “find the strength for all this” by “trusting in God our Father, who watches over us.” “We should always repeat this to ourselves, especially at times of greatest trouble: God is a Father, and he is at my side. He knows and loves me; he does not sleep, but watches over me and cares for me. If I stay close to him, not a hair of my head will perish.”
And, he said, “Since he loves us, let us resolve to love him in the most abandoned of his children. Let us care for the poor, in whom we find Jesus.”