Pope Francis had announced in his Apostolic Letter, Mercy and Misery (Misericordia et Misera.21, on 20 November 2016) that the Sunday before the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year (Solemnity of Christ the King) to be honoured as World Day of the Poor. The first World Day of the Poor is on 19 November 2017. The document concerning WDP was published on 13 June 2017, the memoria of the Franciscan saint and friend of the poor, St. Antony of Padua. Its title is the verse from Saint John: “Let us not love in words but in deeds.” Here are some suggestions for our communities for the World Day of the Poor.
1. Information on World Days declared by the Popes
World Day of the Poor is not the first one of its kind in the Church. St. John Paul II had initiated many other World Days to focus our attention on certain issues during life. It is good to display these World Days on notice boards, especially in formation houses. These special days in the year are a reminder for us to reflect, pray and act in tune with such lofty global efforts.
In fact, any occasions in life are moments of faith formation and growth.
World Day of Peace (By Paul VI in 1967, January 1, Solemnity of the Mother of God)
World Day of Consecrated Life (By John Paul II in 1997, February 2, Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord)
World Day of the Sick (by John Paul II in 1992, February 11, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes)
World Youth Day (By John Paul II in 1985, started as on every Palm Sunday, later every two/three years)
World Meeting of Families (By John Paul II in 1994, Every three years)
World Day of Prayer for Creation (By Pope Francis in 2015, September 1)
World Day of the Poor (By Pope Francis in 2016, Sunday before Solemnity of Christ the King)
2. Catechesis on the Mercy and Misery
The Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera, announcing the WDP is available in the Vatican Website. It is not a long document but just 22 articles. Sometimes before the WDP, this document can be read in the community during the spiritual reading. It will be good if some points of the document are referred to in Good Nights and Morning Talks. It will certainly help to inculcate love for the poor and solidarity with them, among our formees and students of our various institutions.
3. Don Bosco and the Poor
The Apostolic Letter refers to St. Francis of Assisi, the Poverello of Assisi. Even after embracing lepers and giving them alms, he didn’t feel satisfied. So, chose to go to Gubbio to stay with them. He saw this meeting as the turning point of his conversion. This testimony shows the transformative power of charity and the Christian way of life (MM, 3). Don Bosco was born poor, lived poor and worked for the Poor boys. When Don Bosco planned to build a basilica in Mary’s honour in Turin, he drew up the plans and called an architect to start the excavations. “Here is your first payment,” he said, handing the astonished man eight cents. “Mary will build her own basilica.” This was characteristic of Don Bosco: living in personal poverty while spending millions for God.
The words of his Mother Mamma Margaret to Don Bosco remind us that poverty is a value, a way of life promoted by his own mother. “When you become a priest,” his mother had told him, “if ever you become rich, I shall never enter your house!” Describing his life, he would say, “I am poor, penniless Don Bosco, a shepherd boy of the hills. I have lived poor and shall die poor.” Yet this impoverished priest, who lived on the coarsest of food and wore the poorest garments (often borrowed), spent millions for his boys, built one basilica to Mary in Turin and another to the Sacred Heart in Rome, and financed great mission expeditions.
During the WDP, a prayer service based on our mission for the Poor youth, taking examples from our different works for the poor in the province, along with parallel examples from the life of Don Bosco could be conducted. It will help us to set the right tone to enter into WDP, in the Salesian way.
4. Awareness and Action for the Poor around
Pope Francis in his Apostolic Letter takes a compassionate look at poverty and poor around the world. He says that poverty has the face of women, men and children exploited by base interests, crushed by the machinations of power and money (5). One out of every nine people in this world suffers from hunger. 98% of these people are in the developing world. According to the annual report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released on 28 May 2015 India is home to 194.6 million undernourished people, the highest in the world.
Jesus says that the poor are always with us. But, the question that we need to ask is, “are we with the poor?” We must stay connected to the poor around our communities. Our presence in the locality should be one of sensitivity and service to the poor around. Hence, awareness about the poor around the institution and possible actions towards their welfare must be contemplated. If there are already systems in place to cater to the poor around, by some sector in the community, a presentation on the poor around can be made to the community so that the community can collectively understand the situation and propose course of action towards the welfare of the poor.
5. Celebrate the Eucharist with the Poor.
The poor are the flesh of Christ. Pope Francis invites men and women of good will all over the world to reach out to the poor. He exhorts the church to invite the poor to participate together in the Eucharist on 19 November. Pope Francis reminds us that our Eucharist has to be connected to the poor. If we truly wish to encounter Christ, we have to touch his body in the suffering bodies of the poor, as a response to the sacramental communion bestowed in the Eucharist. The Body of Christ, broken in the sacred liturgy, can be seen, through charity and sharing, in the faces and persons of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters (3). “If you want to honour the body of Christ, do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honour the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments, and then, leaving the church, neglect the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness (Saint John Chrysostom).”
In this connection, it will be meaningful if a Holy Eucharist is celebrated with the poor, preferably on the day WDP. In some of our contexts the participants invited to this Eucharist could be our own domestic workers and other poor employees who associate with our ministry.
6. Have a Meal with the Poor
Pope Francis reminds us that the poor can be invited as honoured guests at our table (6,7). “God created the heavens and the earth for all; yet sadly some have erected barriers, walls and fences, betraying the original gift meant for all
humanity, with none excluded (6).” It will be a good work of mercy if our communities could have a meal together with the poor. The poor can be our own workers, the beneficiaries of the social service sector of the community, etc.
Pope Francis reminds us that every time we recite the prayer “Our Father” we must remember the poor. “The Our Father is a prayer said in the plural: the bread for which we ask is “ours”, and that entails sharing, participation and joint responsibility. In this prayer, all of us recognize our need to overcome every form of selfishness, in order to enter into the joy of mutual acceptance (8).”