By Hannah Brockhaus
After hearing testimonies from two homeless men Friday, Pope Francis spoke off-the-cuff about the dignity and solidarity that can be found in poverty, but which is often lacking in situations of wealth.
“We must always look for those poorer than I” and seek to increase solidarity by “giving the hand to the one suffering more than me,” the Pope said.
“The ability to have solidarity is one of the fruits that poverty gives us. When there is a lot of richness, one forgets this solidarity,” he said, thanking the homeless for being “the example of this hand a sign of solidarity for the world.”
Pope Francis spoke to a group of around 3,600 people in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall Nov. 11. Of those present, most were from precarious situations such as extreme poverty and homelessness who traveled to Rome as part of the European Festival of Joy and Mercy being held Nov. 11-13 in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy.
Organized by the French organization Fratello, the event brought in groups of pilgrims from 22 different countries, including a large number from France, Poland, and Rome itself. It was conceived as a way to help the homeless participate more fully in the Church and in the Jubilee of Mercy.
The weekend’s schedule includes a mix of both sightseeing and religious activities, including Morning Prayer, Mass, and walking through the Holy Doors of Rome’s four papal basilicas. It will conclude with a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Nov. 13.
Responding to the testimony of one of the men at the audience, Pope Francis said that what struck him most was the man’s words about not being different, about having the same hopes, dreams, and passions as everyone else.
“Poverty is in the heart of the Gospel,” he said, noting that people followed Christ “because they dreamed, because he healed them, he served them and in the end he liberated them.”
“With your dreams you teach us to dream of the Gospel where you are, in the heart of the Gospel,” he said, explaining that while they might be poor, “you are not overcome … poor, yes; defeated, no.”
Because of the Christian belief in the dignity “of every man and woman,” we can be assured of seeing that life is beautiful, no matter how difficult it may be or how much suffering it may involve, he said.
The Pope, moved by the second man’s testimony, said what impressed him most about it was his “insistence on the word peace.”
“He spoke of interior peace,” Francis noted, saying it is a peace that destroyed by war, and “the greatest poverty is war. The poverty that destroys.”
“To listen to this from the lips of a man who suffered material poverty, physical poverty” is a call for everyone “to work for peace,” he said.
This is the peace “that God wants for each one of your children, and you,” he added. A peace which began with the Holy Family, who were also “marginalized.”
“Make peace, create peace, be the example of peace. We need peace in the world. We need peace in the Church,” he said, adding that “all churches need peace, all religions need to grow in peace because all religions are messengers.”
Francis finished his speech by asking everyone present to please forgive him if he has ever caused offense or not done something that he should have done to help.
He also asked forgiveness for all Christians who do not think the poor are at the center of the Gospel, or who have looked the other way instead of helping those in need.
Concluding with a prayer, the Pope asked God the Father to give them each strength and joy, asking that he teach them “to dream, to look forward.”
Francis prayed that God would “teach us to show solidarity because we are brothers,” and “that you teach us to defend our dignity. You are the Father of each one of us. Bless us, Father. Amen.”