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Visiting the poor as pilgrimage

by | Nov 23, 2012 | Formation

The most evangelical and most essential pilgrimage for Christians is the one we undertake when we go out to encounter and serve those who are poor. It is in the poor that we encounter the compassionate and merciful God and therefore the poor become the goal of this genuine pilgrimage. In them we encounter Christ.” writes Santiago Barquin, CM, reflecting on the Jubilee Year in a recently translated article on experiencing the poor as a place to start theological reflection for Vincentian. This rich article will soon become available in the Vincentian Encyclopedia.

The desire to obtain the Jubilee indulgence and to go on pilgrimage to certain designated places is perhaps leading us to a misunderstanding of the true significance of the meaning of the Jubilee Year. In order to under the significance of the Jubilee Year we must take up the Scriptures and it is there that we discover God’s desires in this regard (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:1-18; Deuteronomy 15:1-11). We find in the Scriptures a jubilee law. This law, real or ideal, expresses the conviction that the land is God’s and God shares the land with men and women and does not want a small majority of people to take unto themselves that which is destined for all (Isaiah 5:8-10). If in the biblical text we substitute the words “material goods” and “wealth” for the word “land”, we are then in a situation that will enable us to understand the problem that we are clarifying.

In January 2000, Juan Manuel Pérez Charlín, the Provincial of the White Father, spoke about the Jubilee Year in the magazine Ecclesia [1]. He began by asking a question: in order to obtain the jubilee indulgence must we travel to Rome or the Holy Land or visit the churches or shrines that each diocesan bishop has designated for this purpose? If the answer is “yes” then we would have to say that the Jubilee Year is reduced to a form of “external worship” and therefore the indulgence can only be obtained by those persons who are rich or who are able to pay for such a trip. Are there no other possibilities for obtaining the Jubilee indulgence.

The Decree of the Sacred Penitentiary on the Jubilee Year offers us an answer. The decree states: The faithful are able to obtain the jubilee indulgence in whatever place if they visit their sisters and brothers who are in need or in some difficulty (infirm, imprisoned, elderly, alone, forgotten, etc.). It is as though one is making a pilgrimage to Christ who is present in them (Matthew 25) [2].

The author adds some further interesting information but that does not concern us at the present time. According to the words of the above text, Christ is present in those who are in need and thus it is in these persons that we will encounter God and discover Christ. In reaching out to and providing for those who are poor we engage in the “true worship” that God desires, we obtain the Jubilee indulgence and at the same time we provide this same possibility to those who are poor.

It is possible that I have been deaf and blind in recent days. I have no recollection of having seen or heard a similar message about assisting the poor in the official publications and announcements concerning the Jubilee Year. Nevertheless, what we have just referred to allows us to present the Jubilee Year in a broader perspective. Thus we avoid the risk of reducing this celebration to some pilgrimage which, while good in itself, is not one of the essentials of the Christian life [3]. The author then goes on to state: I believe that it is too late for our Catholic parishes and communities and the various means of communication to make a positive and attractive presentation of the way to celebrate the Jubilee Year “in every place throughout the world.” The faithful can participate in this celebration without having to travel to some distant place. They can do this in the place where they find themselves at this present moment. All they have to do is visit their brothers/sisters, for in doing this it is as though they are making a pilgrimage to Christ who is present in those brothers and sisters. It seems to me that this is a wonderful way to offer the graces of the Jubilee Year to everyone, including those persons who are poor [4].

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