“I ask your forgiveness for all the times that we Christians stand before a poor person or a situation of poverty and look the other way.” In the Paul VI Audience Hall filled with over 6 thousand poor, homeless and marginalized persons who travelled to Rome to attend the Jubilee of Socially Excluded Persons, Pope Francis in an impromptu speech in Spanish underlined that “the poor are at the heart of the Gospel” and went on to deliver one of the most moving “mea culpa” of the entire Jubilee year. “We are all called to build a poor Church for the poor”, he said reverberating once again the dream of his pontificate, revealed to journalists a few days after his election. While continuing his impromptu prayer, the protagonists of the last great event before the Mass of Sunday November 13, addressed to the same audience, gathered round him, each of them gently placing a hand on his shoulder: “The prayer of the poor for the Pope of the poor”, as it was defined by Cardinal Barbarin opening the meeting.
“There are no rich and no poor but a fraternity united by a common destiny”, said Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, presenting to the Pope the French experience with the homeless. “We travelled from 22 Countries and we wanted to feel the joy to draw closer to the heart of Jesus”, as will participants in the final surprise meeting, said Etienne Villemain, representative of “Fratello” – the association that organized the event – founder of the Lazare Association, which for over 10 years has been running communal apartments in France, where the homeless and young volunteers live, like a family. Then it was the turn of Christian and Robert, both homeless persons, who had the opportunity of personally embracing the Pope, in a seemingly endless handshake. “God does not deceive us. He is sincere”, Christian said. “We aren’t different from other people, we have our joys and our passions”, Robert added proudly, revealing that he finally arrived to meet the Pope after complicated “twists” in his life. Various proposals were made, such as establishing a world day for the poor.
“Do not give up on dreaming, teach us to dream!”
was the twofold encouragement of the Pope. “To me, when men and women lose the ability to dream, to cultivate their passions, they become very poor”. Thus: “Do not give up on dreaming! Dream that the world can be changed!” the Pope said.
“Poverty is at the heart of the Gospel”, was the point of departure of what for Francis is the most important cathedral: “Only those who feel they are missing something can look up and dream. Those who have everything are incapable of dreaming.”
“The poor followed Jesus because they were capable of dreaming”, Francis said. “Teach those who have everything, who have no shortage of food or medicines, teach us not be unsatisfied. Teach us to dream, to start from the heart of the Gospel.”
“Dignity”. This is the word that gives shape to the cathedral of the poor. Dignity, Francis explained, is the ability “to see beauty even in the worst situations, even in the deepest forms of suffering.”
“Poor yes; but not poor that drag themselves on; this is dignity”:
“It is the same dignity that belonged to Jesus had, who was born poor and lived poor. It is the same dignity that the word of the Gospel has. It is the same dignity that a man or woman has in their work.” “Poor yes; exploited, No”, was the Pope’s recommendation. “Poor yes; but slaves No!”, the Pope underlined.
He invited participants to “teach the world the beauty of solidarity.”
“When there is richness people forget about solidarity”, while “in poverty people show solidarity, and this makes them extend their hands to those who are experiencing situations that are worst than theirs!”
“War is made among the rich in order to have more”, while the poor “are more inclined to make peace, to be artisans of peace, to believe in peace.”
Almost whispering, Francis reminded participants: “peace for us Christians began in a manger, in a family that had been marginalized. This is the peace that God wants for each one of his children. Starting from your situations, you can be artisans of peace.” He appealed to the 6 thousand people present: “Give the world an example of peace, we need peace in the world, all religions need to thrive in peace, for they are messengers of peace. Each one of you can help, with your faith, seeking the harmony that may give you dignity.”
“I ask your forgiveness for all the times that we Christians looked the other way.”
This was the most significant passage of the “mea culpa” delivered by the Pope at the end of the meeting. “I ask your forgiveness if I have ever offended you with my words or for not having said something that I should have, “ the Pope said in his opening remarks. “I ask for your forgiveness in the name of all Christians who read the Gospel without realising that poverty is at the centre; for all the times that we Christians have turned our backs on indigent persons or situations of poverty.”
“We are all called to build a poor Church for the poor”,
Francis said ending the meeting in the Paul VI Audience Hall reciting an ad-libbed prayer: “God, Father of all of us, of each one of your sons and daughters, I ask you to give us strength and joy, and teach us to dream to look forward; teach us to be supportive of one another because we are brothers and sisters; and help us to defend our dignity. You are the Father of each of us: bless us, Father. Amen”. Then the homeless spontaneously approached Pope Francis to pray with him, gently placing their hands on his shoulder, as Cardinal Philippe Barbarin had asked in the beginning: “The prayer of the poor for the Pope of the poor”.