‘The poor are in our midst’

Nov. 14 is World Day of the Poor

In his apostolic letter, Misericordia et Misera, issued on Nov. 20, 2016, Pope Francis announced the beginning of a new observance known as World Day of the Poor. He asked that it be celebrated every year on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. He suggested that the Catholic Church set aside that day each year to reflect on “how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel.” 

The inaugural World Day of the Poor took place on Nov. 19, 2017.

This year, World Day of the Poor will be held Nov. 14. In preparation for the observance, Pope Francis wrote: “It is my hope that the celebration of the World Day of the Poor, now in its fifth year, will grow in our local churches and inspire a movement of evangelization that meets the poor personally wherever they may be.”

A year ago, on a drizzly and cold Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were driving home when we saw a man, appearing to be in his late 30s, walking without a jacket or coat. He was soaked and likely very cold. We turned around, I got out and walked toward him and offered my jacket. He said “thank you” and I asked if he needed a ride. 

He jumped in the back seat and we headed to the north side of Green Bay from Bellevue. Our new acquaintance was quite outgoing, sharing lots of information about himself and asking us questions. It didn’t seem long before we arrived at some apartments, where he asked to be dropped off. He said “thanks” as he exited. We were happy he would find warmth and dry clothes.

It took us a while to figure our way out of the complex, but when we turned onto University Avenue, we noticed our guest walking again in the rain.

At first, our reaction was bewilderment. But then we understood, it was not for us to judge. We recited a prayer aloud for him and hoped he would be OK.

I was reminded of this encounter after reading Pope Francis’ letter for World Day of the Poor 2021. In it, he quotes St. John Chrysostom:

“Those who are generous should not ask for an account of the poor’s conduct, but only improve their condition of poverty and satisfy their need. The poor have only one plea: their poverty and the condition of need in which they find themselves. … The merciful are like a harbor for those in need: the harbor welcomes and frees from danger all those who are shipwrecked; whether they are evildoers, good persons, or whatever they may be, the harbor shelters them within its inlet. You, too, therefore, when you see on land a man or a woman who has suffered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge, do not ask for an account of their conduct, but deliver them from their misfortune.”

There are many ways we can seek to deliver people from their misfortunes. The most natural should be through prayer. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), through its “Lead the Way” initiative, offers opportunities for people to come together as a community or individually to pray for the poor. Visit crs.org/get-involved/lead-way.

CRS also encourages us to mark World Day of the Poor by advocating for legislation that addresses poverty, both domestically and globally. Contributing to relief agencies like CRS will also ease the suffering for people living on the margins.

Pope Francis concludes his message for World Day of the Poor by offering us a challenge. “The poor are present in our midst. How evangelical it would be if we could say with all truth: we too are poor, because only in this way will we truly be able to recognize them, to make them part of our lives and an instrument of our salvation.”