‘Serve, accompany, and defend the poor’

by | Feb 4, 2014 | Justice and Peace, Poverty: Analysis and Responses

bergolio-foot washingCatholic social ministers told: “Serve, accompany, and defend the poor.” A message quite in line with the Pope’s Lenten message and one which echoes in the hearts of the followers of Vincent and Louise.

To “serve, accompany, and defend” the poor is the mission of Catholic social ministry according to Michel Roy, general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, speaking to 500 Catholic activists meeting in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Roy was quoting the words of Pope Francis when he visited the Jesuit Refugee Services center in Rome last year. The Pope was articulating the mission of JRS to accompany, serve and advocate for the poor. Caritas Internationalis is made up of 164 agencies like Catholic Relief Services, the international aid agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops. These agencies are active in 200 countries serving the needs of the poor and vulnerable by providing food, clothing and shelter. In his talk, however, Roy emphasized the need to accompany and empower the poor, not simply give them handouts. He explained how Caritas is active in places like the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India. Like Pope Francis, Roy sees the work of charity as integral to evangelization. He noted that although at the beginning of the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, Pope Benedict spoke of the two pillars of evangelization– confessing the faith and witnessing through charity– the second pillar got short shrift in the final document, being relegated to a single paragraph. Thanks to Francis’ apostolic exhortation, written in response to the synod, that has changed.

In Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope “is putting the poor at the center of new evangelization. He is opening our ears to the cry of the poor and calling us to be instruments of God for their liberation and promotion.” Roy notes that “the word liberation was not often used recently. It is coming back.” The Pope “is reminding us that the sign of credibility that cannot be missed in evangelization is the option for the poorest, for those that society discards and rejects.”

The Pope “is reminding us that our social commitment is not just about actions and programs but in the actual and loving care and true and friendly proximity to the poor,” he said. “He is inviting us to believe in the revolutionary power of tenderness and affection.” But the Pope is also “inviting us to urgently address the structural causes of poverty and telling us that assistance should be only a temporary response.”

The church too must be “flexible enough to be challenged by the poor,” he told his audience. We should not think we always know what is best for the poor. “Have we set up spaces for the voice of the poor to be heard and transformed?” We must be “ready to give up our own security, our own sureness, and count on the Holy Spirit to make that way one of possible personal growth and development.”

To those overwhelmed by the problems of the world, he said, “We do have the capacity to change things in the world.” He believes that Caritas, “present and helping people to change their lives,” is “a sign of hope that something can be done if we succeed in organizing people at various levels.”

Full text of the article at NCR.