Sister Jennibeth Sabay reflects on finding Christ in the poor on the occasion of the 5th World Day of the Poor.
In the personal notes of a French saint and foundress of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, St. Emilie de Villeneuve (1811- 1854) shared a topic of her meditation: "A good soul, very charitable," said to God when she went to see a poor person who was very bad, "My God, you are well hidden in this poor but anyway I will do in such a way that I will know how to find you in him."
She expressed in one of her prayers: "Our spirit of faith makes us behold God alone in all things and all things in God alone."
Emilie dedicated her life to the service of the poor and suffering members of Jesus. It was especially in the face of the poor, lame, criminals, orphans, and women that she saw God. She left her social privileges, family, relatives, and friends to be near the poor, live, work, and experience their feelings. She died of cholera in France in 1854 in a time of epidemic after a lifetime of service for God's poor.
"The poor are always with us" (Mark 14:7) is the theme reflected on Pope Francis' message for the 5th World Day of the Poor, which will be commemorated on November 14.
The World Day of the Poor has been observed on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time since 2017. Pope Francis established it in 'Misericordia et Misera,' an Apostolic Letter issued on November 20, 2016, to mark the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.
According to Pope Francis, the face of God revealed by Jesus is that of a Father concerned for and close to the poor. "We see Jesus in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and needs, in the often inhuman conditions in which they are forced to live."
"The poor are true evangelizers, for they were the first to be evangelized and called to share in the Lord's joy and his kingdom," Pope Francis said in his message.
He stressed the need for conversion, viewing the poor not as a "category" in need of specific charitable services, "Instead, taking on the challenge of mutual sharing and involvement.
"Changing this way of thinking and embracing the challenge of mutual sharing and involvement in the life of others, especially the poor."
In the encyclical by St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus # 28, it also said, "to abandon a mentality in which the poor—as individuals and as peoples—are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced."
In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection. (CA # 33)
Pope Francis stressed in his message that the poor know the suffering Christ through their sufferings. They have much to teach us.
"The poor often teach us about solidarity and sharing. True, they may be people who lack some things, often many things, including the bare necessities, yet they do not lack everything, for they retain the dignity of God's children that nothing and no one can take away from them."
According to the UN, the COVID-19 pandemic has profound effects on poverty—increasing the numbers experiencing or at risk of poverty and widening gaps between rich and poor. Reduced incomes, unemployment, food insecurity, inadequate education, and increased domestic violence worsen poverty.
Pope stressed in his message "the urgency to offer concrete responses to those who are unemployed, whose numbers include many fathers, mothers, and young people." Social solidarity and generosity are the most significant contribution at this moment, he added.
He urged the faithful "to grow in awareness of the needs of the poor, which are always changing, as are their living conditions..., to meet the poor personally wherever they may be, to understand how they feel, what they are experiencing, and what their hearts desire."
"Poverty should motivate us to creative planning, aimed at increasing the freedom needed to live a life of fulfillment according to the abilities of each person," he added in his message.
Jesus is the first of the poor, the poorest of the poor because he represents all of them. We do not find him when and where we want, but see him in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and needs, he said.
Many exemplary saints made mutual sharing with the poor their life project. Pope mentioned Father (Saint) Damien de Veuster (1840-1889), the apostle to the lepers who dedicated his life for them.
We are invited to give our life for the service of the poorest of the poor as St. Emilie de Villeneuve said to his father, "it is for God that I leave you, I want to serve the poor."
We, as Christians, are called to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters, especially those with the greatest needs that require the greatest response. May we see Jesus in the face of the poor.
(Jennibeth Sabay is a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception of Castres, a missionary congregation committed to the poorest of the poor.)
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.