Bookmark and Share

Preferential love for the poor

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 27 October 1999 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. The Second Vatican Council underscores a specific dimension of charity which prompts us, following Christ's example, to reach out to those who are most poor:  "Christ was sent by the Father "to bring good news to the poor ... to heal the contrite of heart' (Lk 4: 18), "to seek and to save what was lost' (Lk 19: 10). Similarly, the Church encompasses with her love all those who are afflicted by human misery and she recognizes in those who are poor and who suffer, the image of her poor and suffering founder. She does all in her power to relieve their need and in them she strives to serve Christ" (Lumen gentium, n. 8).

Today let us look closely at the teaching of Sacred Scripture about the reasons for the Church's preferential love of the poor.

2. It should be noted first of all that there is a development from the Old to the New Testament in evaluating the poor and their situation. In the Old Testament we often see the common human conviction that wealth is better than poverty and is the just reward for the upright and God-fearing person:  "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments.... Wealth and riches are in his house" (Ps 112: 1, 3). Poverty is considered a punishment for those who reject the instruction of wisdom (cf. Prv 13: 18).

However, from another perspective, the poor become the object of special attention as victims of perverse injustice. The prophets' invectives against the exploitation of the poor are famous. The prophet Amos (cf. 2: 6-15) includes oppression of the poor among his accusations against Israel:  "They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes - they that trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and turn aside the way of the afflicted" (ibid., vv. 6-7). The connection between poverty and injustice is also stressed in Isaiah:  "Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey" (Is 10: 1-2).

This connection also explains why there are numerous laws defending the poor and those who are socially the weakest:  "You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry" (Ex 22: 22-23; cf. Prv 22: 22-23; Sir 4: 1-10). To defend the poor is to honour God, Father of the poor. Generosity to them is therefore justified and recommended (Dt 15: 1-11; 24: 10-15; Prv 14: 21; 17: 5).

In the developing reflection on the theme of poverty, the latter acquires a religious value. God speaks of "his" poor (cf. Is 49: 13) who are identified with the "remnant of Israel", described as a humble and lowly people by the prophet Zephaniah (cf. 3: 12). It is also said of the future Messiah that he will take the poor and the oppressed to heart, as Isaiah states in the famous text about the shoot that would sprout from the stump of Jesse:  "With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth" (Is 11: 4).

3. This is why in the New Testament the good news of deliverance is announced to the poor, as Jesus himself stresses, applying to himself the prophecy of the Book of Isaiah:  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Lk 4: 18; cf. Is 61: 1-2).

To possess the "kingdom of heaven", it is necessary to have the interior attitude of the poor (cf. Mt 5: 3; Lk 6: 20). In the parable of the great feast, the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame - in a word the most suffering and marginalized social categories - were invited to the banquet ( cf. Lk 14: 21). St James would later say that God has "chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him" (Jas 2: 5).

4. "Evangelical" poverty always implies great love for the poorest of this world. In this third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee, we must rediscover God as the provident Father who has compassion on human suffering in order to relieve all who are afflicted. Our charity too must be expressed in sharing and in human development understood as the integral growth of each person.

Throughout history the radicality of the Gospel has spurred many of Jesus' disciples to seek poverty to the point of selling their own goods and giving them as alms. Poverty here becomes a virtue which, besides alleviating the lot of the poor, becomes a spiritual path to true wealth, that is, to an unfailing treasure in heaven (cf. Lk 12: 32-34). Material poverty is never an end in itself, but a means of following Christ, about whom Paul said to the Corinthians:  "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8: 9).

5. Here I can only stress again that the poor represent today's challenge especially for the wealthy peoples of our world, where millions of people are living in inhuman conditions and many are literally dying of hunger. We cannot proclaim God the Father to these brethren without the commitment to work together in Christ's name to build a more just society.

The Church, especially in her social Magisterium from Rerum novarum to Centesimus annus, has always strived to address the theme of the very poor. The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 must be another opportunity for deep conversion of heart, so that the Spirit may raise up new witnesses to this cause. Christians, together with all people of good will, must contribute, by appropriate economic and political measures, to those structural changes which are so necessary for humanity to be freed from the plague of poverty (cf. Centesimus annuns, n. 57)."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

J’accueille avec joie les pèlerins d’expression française, notamment Monseigneur Herriot, Évêque de Soissons, et ses diocésains. Que leur pèlerinage sur les pas de Pierre et Paul ravive leur foi au Christ ! À tous, j’accorde ma Bénédiction apostolique !

I warmly greet the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. I extend a special welcome to the members of the Catholic Police Guild, and to the group of Judicial Vicars from Great Britain. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Great Britain, Ireland, the Philippines, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the abundant blessings of Almighty God.

Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich die Pilger und Besucher, die aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache nach Rom gekommen sind. Besonders heiße ich willkommen: die Superintendenten aus der Region Lüneburg, Gruppen von Theologiestudenten aus Würzburg und Salzburg sowie die zahlreichen Schüler und Schülerinnen verschiedener Schulen. Euch, Euren Angehörigen daheim und allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.

Doy la bienvenida a todos los peregrinos de lengua española. De modo especial saludo a los grupos parroquiales procedentes de España, Panamá, Chile y de otros países de Latinoamérica. Invocando sobre todos la misericordia de Dios Padre, os bendigo de corazón.

Saúdo cordialmente os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, hoje representados especialmente pelo Senhor Comandante, Oficiais e Sub-oficiais, Cadetes do Navio-Escola “Brasil” .

Desejo a todos felicidades; e que crescendo na fé e na consciência da vocação cristã, honrem sempre a dignidade a que os elevou o Baptismo. Aos Oficiais e Cadetes da Marinha do Brasil, convido a servirem sempre a Pátria com espírito de lealdade e solidariedade, demonstrando, com seu exemplo, que serão sempre construtores de fraternidade e defensores da paz. Com estes votos, vos abençoo, assim como as vossas famílias.

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata

Cari fratelli e sorelle, dai battezzati ci si attende che dal loro modo di vivere e di operare traspaia il loro essere cristiani. Questo linguaggio deve essere di amore verso tutti, compresi i nemici, grande nel perdono e che stende la mano in segno di riconciliazione. L’amore autentico, infatti, comprende in sé perdono e riconciliazione.

Saluto cordialmente il Coro misto “Lira” di Vodice, i membri dell’Associazione Croata delle Infermiere, e i Dirigenti delle Case dello Studente di Zagabria. A tutti imparto la Benedizione Apostolica,

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Cari pellegrini provenienti dalla Repubblica Ceca!

I SS. Apostoli Simone e Giuda Taddeo, la cui festa celebreremo domani, vengono chiamati anche Simone “zelota” e Giuda “magnanimo”.

Auspico che anche voi diate con “zelo” testimonianza della fede e apriate sempre con magnanimità i vostri cuori a Dio.

Volentieri vi benedico!

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ungherese

Saluto con affetto i pellegrini ungherese da Kiskunfélegyháza e i collaboratori del programma ungherese della Radio Vaticana che hanno festeggiato ieri il 50mo anniversario delle loro trasmissioni. Di cuore invoco la mia benedizione apostolica su di loro e su tutti gli ascoltatori ungheresi.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Witam pielgrzymów z Polski: władze miejskie, samorządowe przedstawicieli mieszkańców Tomaszowa Mazowieckiego wr z księdzem proboszczem; młodzież licealną i szkolną z Krakowa, Chrzanowa, Stargardu Szczecińskiego i Zgorzelca; grupy parafialne z Kicina koło Poznania, Legnicy i Warszawy; grupę Sióstr Urszulanek Unii Rzymskiej.

Serdecznie pozdrawiam księży werbistów polskiej prowincji, którzy przybyli do Rzymu, aby u grobu św. Piotra dziękować Bogu za blogosławionych 108 męczenników, a wśród nich za czterech współb ci zakonnych. Chętnie włączam się w to dziękczynienie za heroic miłość br. Grzegorza Bolesława Frąckowiaka, o. Stanisława Kubisty, o. Alojzego Ligudy i o. Ludwika Mzyka.

Jak mówiłem podczas beatyfikacji, ci błogosławieni są « świadectwem zwycięstwa Chrystusa darem przywracającym nadzieję ». Niech ich świadectwo umacnia wszystkich werbistów w Polsce i na świecie w ofiarnej służbie Bogu. Głosząc zwycięstwo Chrystusa, niéscie nadzieję współczesnemu człowiekowi. Niech wam Bóg błogosławi!

Pragnę również powitać strażaków z powiatu tatrzańskiego oraz z Szaflar, którzy czynnie włączali się w przygotowanie pielgrzymki Papieża do Ojczyzny, a dziś sami jako pielgrzymi przybyli do progów apolskich. Dziękuję za wasz trud. Zanieście moje pozdrowienie i ogosławieństwo waszym rodzinom i wszystkim mieszkańcom Podhala.

Z serca wam błogosławię!

* * *

Sono lieto di accogliere un gruppo di pellegrini provenienti dal Patriarcato di Mosca, ospiti a Roma del Circolo San Pietro. La vostra visita ai comuni luoghi di fede risalenti ai primi secoli giovi al reciproco arricchimento. Rivolgo un saluto cordiale ai Religiosi Mercedari ed auguro ogni bene per il loro corso di formazione.

Saluto i pellegrini italiani, in particolare i partecipanti al quinto Congresso nazionale dell'Associazione Cattolica Esercenti Cinema, in occasione del cinquantesimo di costituzione. Carissimi, le sale cinematografiche delle comunità ecclesiali sono espressione concreta del Progetto culturale della Chiesa italiana. Penso con gratitudine ai sacerdoti ed ai laici che in questi 50 anni hanno animato tale servizio e vi incoraggio a proseguirlo in modo sempre qualificato, per un proficuo dialogo tra la Chiesa e la società.

Un pensiero va poi all'Opera Diocesana Assistenza di Roma, che ha compiuto anch'essa i 50 anni, ed ai partecipanti all'Assemblea Generale del Servizio di Animazione Comunitaria, che ringrazio per l'impegno con cui si sforzano di tradurre in progetti pastorali la dottrina del Concilio Vaticano II.

Saluto inoltre gli operatori sanitari riuniti per il primo Congresso nazionale di Oncologia Medica e i Managers della Società "Adecco"; gli Allievi Agenti della Polizia di Stato di Caserta e la rappresentanza dell'Arsenale Marina Militare di Taranto; i soci della Conf-cooperative di Milano e i giovani "Alfieri del Lavoro".

Mi rivolgo, infine, ai giovani, ai malati ed agli sposi novelli. Carissimi, celebreremo domani la festa dei santi Apostoli Simone e Giuda Taddeo. La loro gloriosa testimonianza sostenga voi tutti nel rispondere generosamente alla chiamata del Signore.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana