“It is an intense document that calls upon everyone – Christians and all men and women of good will – to live an experience of brotherhood with the poor.” François Le Forestier commented from France the message with which Pope Francis announced the First World Day of the Poor that will be held on November 19 with a lunch for 500 indigent persons offered in the Paul VI Hall, after the celebration of Mass in the Vatican Basilica, inviting everyone to do the same in all parishes and Christian communities worldwide. François Le Forestier is a member of the association “Aux Captifs la libération” for support to the socially excluded. He was the spokesperson of “Brother 2016”, which last year, upon the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, brought 6 thousand homeless persons from 20 different Countries to gather around Pope Francis in Rome.
“Let us love not with words, but with deeds” is the theme of Pope Francis’ message. What does it mean?
It means that Christians often love and are generous only in words, they say beautiful things, but
the world is judging us on the basis of our actions, rather than on our words.
Thus by asking us to put into practice the words of the Gospel the Pope is telling us that we must do so not out of a sense of duty but because the love for our brother leads us towards happiness and fulfilment. Once again in this document the Pope describes a new culture of Christian life providing a major contribution to a new form of evangelization.
Who are today’s poor?
The poor of today’s world are very different from each other and yet they are all men and women who experienced episodes of exclusion, abandonment, betrayal, rejection. As a result many of them have lost confidence in the possibility of recovering the path of a dignified life.
Poverty often means lack of relations and loneliness.
Poverty means living in a state of precariousness which includes food precariousness, housing precariousness, precariousness caused by wars, and today, also caused by climate change. Poverty leads people to live on the margins of society, of life. It fuels the throwaway culture.
Instead, what do the poor have to say to today’s humanity?
We should all convert to the school of the poor; for they show us the way of poverty according to Gospel teaching. Through their lives they show us what it means to live a poverty that can help avoid the delusion of money, power, omnipotence and selfishness.
At the school of the poor we can learn where to find the fountainhead of joy and the fullness of life.
The Pope calls upon our communities to extend a helping hand to the poor, to meet them, look them in the eye, embrace them….He asks us to create occasions for encounter and friendship, for solidarity and concrete help. On the basis of your experience, how is a community transformed by opening its doors to the poor?
I will a share a personal experience from my parish. We realized that there were considerable numbers of poor and lonely people who attended Mass and then left. We felt a deep sadness for them and thus we proposed to our parish priest to organize a lunch open to everyone at the end of the Sunday Mass. Little by little these lunches were attended not only by poor and lonely people but also by families with children, by young people, by the community. A simple lunch after the Eucharist gradually enabled the faithful to see each other as brothers and sisters, in a concrete way. We felt there was a complementariness that connected the Eucharistic celebration with the meal shared soon after.
You were one of the organizers of Brother 2016, the Jubilee of Mercy of Socially Excluded Persons. What was your impression of Pope Francis on that occasion: what impressed you the most about his approach towards the poor?
The Pope has always seen the poor as those who are most close to the Lord. I think this is why he chose the name Francis. In his Message he refers to Francis of Assisi. The Saint, who was a rich man, made that same choice of poverty. At the Brother pilgrimage, Pope Francis was surrounded by people who had experienced deep suffering until inside the Church they found a community that restored the experience of true brotherhood.
This is part and parcel of Pope’s Francis vision of the Church. To him poor people are a sign of the Holy Spirit.
In what way?
Among the many gestures that Francis made on that occasion, the most touching moment was when he was surrounded by so many poor people. They placed their hands on his shoulder and prayed with him. I think that with this gesture Pope Francis was telling us: let yourselves be reached by the Lord through the poor, for it is you who need them. The poor are not a burden, they don’t weigh on society curbing its development. They are people who we all need. For they are the ones who show us the true meaning of life today, free of possessions and free from all forms of slavery. They are those who can proclaim the Word of God today.