November 17, 2017


We must serve the poor

“The poor are not a problem,” Pope Francis said when he announced the first World Day of the Poor. “They are a resource from which to draw as we strive to accept and practice in our lives the essence of the Gospel.”

The first observance of the World Day of the Poor is on Nov. 19.

Concern for the poor has been a top priority of the Church from the beginning. In his Letter to the Galatians, written about the year 54 or 55, St. Paul recounted the meeting he had with the “pillars” of the Church at which they approved Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. “Only, we were to be mindful of the poor, which is the very thing I was eager to do,” he said (Gal 2:10).

Indeed, Paul was mindful of the poor. During his travels, he took up a collection that he gave to the Church in Jerusalem, designated for the poor there.

Of course, Jesus himself came into the world as a poor man, lived as a poor man, and died as a poor man. He urged all of us to be poor, if not in actual poverty, at least in spirit, for his first beatitude was “Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).

At the beginning of his ministry, in his hometown of Nazareth, he proclaimed, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor” (Lk 4:18). And he told the rich young man, “If you would be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mt 19:21).

The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the early Christians “sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45).

Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has emphasized service to the poor from the moment he became pope. Now, in his message for the World Day of the Poor, he tells us, “Let us love, not with words, but with deeds,” which is what St. John wrote (1 Jn 3:18). And St. James wrote, “Faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead” (Jas 2:17).

Fortunately, our Church here in central and southern Indiana can affirm that it is following Christ’s command. Perhaps that fact is little known by the general public, but Catholic organizations throughout the archdiocese are doing wonderful things for the poor.

Catholic Charities has offices in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Terre Haute, New Albany and Tell City. Last year, those offices served a total of 90,415 unduplicated clients (209,519 duplicated clients) with more than 20 kinds of special services from food distribution, to clothing assistance, to shelter, and health-related services. It did that with a paid staff of 219 plus 2,056 volunteers.

However, Catholic Charities is hardly the only Catholic organization that serves the poor. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is probably the best known. It feeds and clothes the hungry, provides beds for those without, gives appliances like refrigerators and washers, makes house visits with food, and has a medical clinic available.

The amazing thing about the Indianapolis archdiocesan Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is that it it is operated almost entirely by volunteers.

Many Catholic faith communities in central and southern Indiana have St. Vincent de Paul parish conferences, so it is located in 57 places, including five distribution centers and three food pantries. Its Beggars for the Poor ministry takes a truck to a Methodist church in Indianapolis every Saturday to provide meals for the homeless.

The homeless and the hungry are also given meals at the SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Kitchen and Food Pantry in Indianapolis in the building behind the cathedral. It serves meals every day of the week.

The Church is obeying Christ’s command to serve the poor. But Pope Francis wants us to do more. He wrote, “If we want to help change history and promote real development, we need to hear the cry of the poor and commit ourselves to ending their marginalization.”

We must all do our part.

—John F. Fink

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