As the Church prepares to celebrate the first World Day of the Poor, an event announced by Pope Francis last year, one Vatican official said it will be an opportunity to grow in mercy and charity, shaping attitudes toward the poor and needy.
The World Day of the Poor, which was announced in Pope Francis’ closing letter for the Jubilee of Mercy, is founded on “this whole notion of reciprocity, of sharing with each other of what each other has,” Msgr Geno Sylva told CNA in an interview.
It’s also based on “our understanding that each of us is poor in some way, and that we need to empty ourselves of certain things so that God’s grace can fill us, God’s mercy can fill us,” he said, adding that “there’s so much we can learn from those who are poor as we try to provide”.
An English-language official of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelisation, Msgr Sylva spoke ahead of the first-ever World Day of the Poor, which is titled “Love not in word, but in deed,” and is set to take place exactly one year after the close of the Jubilee of Mercy. The event, Sylva said, is “so beautiful and so powerful as a perpetual fruit of the jubilee of mercy”.
World Day for the Poor “ties perfectly in with the New Evangelisation,” he said, “because the New Evangelisation is able to engage people by presenting the mercy of God and seeing people in that mercy”.
Pope Francis has announced the World Day for the Poor as an annual observance on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, a week before the Solemnity of Christ the King. “This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy,” he said, adding that the event would also “represent a genuine form of new evangelisation which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.”
In Rome, the event will begin with a prayer vigil on 18 November and solemn vespers for all those who volunteer in organisations or associations that care for the poor.
The vigil, which will be presided over by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Council for the New Evangelisation, will be held at the Roman Basilica of St Lawrence Outside the Walls, a venue symbolically chosen in honor of the saint who once said that “the treasure of the Church are the poor.”
The following morning, local poor and needy people will be bused to the Vatican for Mass with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica, and will be offered a celebratory lunch afterward in different locations around Rome, including the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
In addition, the council has arranged for Italian doctors, nurses and specialists from varying practices to provide free medical care to the poor and needy attending the World Day of the Poor. They will set up tents and offer free services to attendees the week prior.
The council is expecting around 3,000 people to participate in the event. Since not everyone will be able to fit in the Vatican’s hall, other organisations and institutions have offered to host groups of the poor for lunch, such as the Pontifical North American College, which will serve around 200 people.
The meal, Sylva said, is meant to show attendees “that they are really special, and that we’re honored to be with them.” Flowers will be placed on all the tables, multiple courses will be served, and a group of children will come into the Paul VI Hall to sing, while a band plays outside. Those serving lunch will include a group of deacons from the Diocese of Rome, which Sylva said is a “very symbolic” gesture.
The World Day of the Poor will also be celebrated in dioceses and parishes “around the world,” Sylva said. To this end, he said the council has developed a pastoral aid for parishes and schools, available on the council’s website, which has already been given to bishops’ conferences and nunciatures around the world.
Available in seven languages, the aid includes, among other things, prayer vigils, lectio divina prayers and the stories of Saints associated with the poor, “so it really will give priests and laypeople involved with leadership a concrete pastoral resource they can use with the people to whom they minister”.
Pointing to the logo for World Day of the Poor, Msgr Sylva said the essence of the event can be summed up in the design, which portrays two people reaching toward each other – one from a doorway and the other from the outside – with a road in between.
“It’s so beautiful because you almost don’t know who’s the one asking for assistance and who’s the one giving assistance, but what we see is that this reciprocity, this shared essence in being in that the one on the outside realises that to get in he’s got to hold that hand out, and the one on the inside realises that he or she has to go out in order to encounter one another,” he said.
The image, he said, is a reminder that “everybody has something to share, everybody has something to give, and everybody is poor in some way”.
“So how do we hand-in-hand, heart-in-heart reach out to one another, and again to not only welcome each other into the doorway of the Church, into the heart of each believer, but also along that road in which we also accompany each other closer toward heaven?”
Pointing to Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of the Poor, published in June, Sylva noted that the Pope had said care for the poor shouldn’t be limited to occasional offerings that appease our consciences, but that charity must be a true encounter that shapes our daily lives.
As Christians, we are called to love everyone simply because “he or she has a need,” he said, explaining that the World Day of the Poor event “expands the notion of what ‘neighbor’ means”.
Christian charity, Sylva explained, is “not just for one day to put a coin in, but it’s an attitude towards the other that needs to change in each one of us, that we need to see each other as brothers and sisters, and that’s the real profundity of what our experience can be.”