An ancient practice that continues today. Peter’s Pence is the collection taken up throughout the Catholic world either on 29 June, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, or on the Sunday closest to this Solemnity (June 26 this year). The annual contribution, as explained on the official website, referring to the origins of Christianity, is a time when material support is given to those charged with preaching the Gospel, thus enabling them to devote themselves completely to their apostolic mission and to care for those in greatest need”, underlined Monsignor Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretary of State of the Holy See. We met him ahead of this date known as the Day of Charity of the Pope.
Your Excellency, Saint Peter’s Pence is an ancient practice that dates back to the origins of Christianity. What are the elements that confer it topical relevance?
They are the same reasons as in the past, basically two: to offer material support to those who devote their life to proclaiming the Gospel message, thus the needs of the apostolate, including the activities of the Holy See; and to care for those in greatest need who unfortunately are always in large numbers, not only those near us but also in many areas of suffering that are often forgotten.
What is the spiritual and ecclesial meaning of the Day of Charity of the Pope?
In addition to charity, that speaks for itself as you said, the Day carries an important ecclesial significance. It isn’t only a question of giving support to those in need or a helping hand to those devoted to doing good, but to do so as a Church. Participating in the Pope’s charity is a strongly symbolic gesture, for it conveys the closeness of the communities and of the faithful to the Pope, participating in his solicitude.
It’s a simple and ancient sign of unity in love.
That’s why it is and should be – as it was also in Church of the origins – a spontaneous gesture. I also wish to remind that alms are given in the period of the solemnity of Saint Peter’s. It can in fact be described as the “gifts” of the Churches to the Successor of Peter, who does not keep them for himself but redistributes them according to the needs of the Churches and of the poor.
Special emphasis is given to this annual event by the Jubilee of Mercy. In this respect the slogan chosen by the Italian Bishops’ Conference for the Day of June 26: “Open your hearts to mercy”, is particularly significant. Is it possible to combine charity and mercy?
It can be said that they are already combined; for they are closely interrelated. Mercy indicates an open heart, that is not closed in itself, a heart that can bend down, kneel down to extreme poverty, as the Lord does with us. That’s where charity stems from, just like a good deed comes from the heart, as a smile comes from joy.
The Pope has reminded us on many occasions that to in order to authentic, charity must be concrete. It means that it must not be limited to thoughts or feelings. It must also reach our pockets! And most of all, it means that today the works of charity should be wisely conceived and managed, in order to arrive to those who truly need them, without squandering.
The Pope has often said that we should not look the other way before situations of poverty, exclusion and discomfort. But often such situations are not fully perceived. In fact, “accusations” of pauperism and populism recur. What is the reason for this?
I believe that the first reaction, when an invitation causes us discomfort and forces us to reflect, is to respond with irritated forms of criticism which at a second thought we realize are abstract, ideological, partisan, and, most of all, they do not help. In these cases what’s most important is to move on without getting discouraged. Indeed, “seeing the splinter in the eye of our brother” is one of the most popular sports in the world. The Church is called not to behave in this way but to move forward with faithfulness, focusing on the Gospel alone regardless of a return on image.
In fact, the Pope adds concrete examples to his words and denunciations. Let it suffice to remember his visit to Lesvos and the gesture of welcome to the refugees, when he brought three Syrian families back with him on his return flight to Rome.
Based on my knowledge of Francis, I must say that he is not interested in “media strategies.” What he does comes natural to him, and I think people realize this. He spontaneously expresses what he believes in action and deeds. To this regard I remember an expression of Pope Benedict: “The program of the Christian faithful is a heart that sees.” It isn’t an advertising artifice. It’s a gaze that sees the needs and a heart that operates, without seeking other people’s approval, and without needing it.
Nepal, Central African Republic, Kenya, Uganda, Niger… are some of the Countries recipients of the worldwide offerings through Peter’s Pence, without forgetting Christian populations persecuted in armed conflicts and the poor in the city of Rome. Is thus the Pope’s charity a charity without borders?
It must have none! A very important aspect is to be present especially in situations that tend to be forgotten too quickly.
In many areas of the world, far from media hype, the Pope receives heartfelt requests and cries of help. We should all listen to those cries.
We tend to forget what happens in the rest of the world, turning our attention to the latest local news.
Instead, the mission of the Pope and of the Church is to embrace everyone, especially those who are distant and forgotten, who unfortunately fail to catch the headlines of many media outlets.
What are your hopes and your appeal for the 2016 collection?
I would like to repeat what Saint Paul wrote, when he asked to contribute to a collection for the Church: more than propaganda or aiming at a target, he valued every gesture with the phase: “God loves those who give with joy.” My hope is that this year’s alms will be a concrete opportunity to rediscover the pure and simple joy of giving.