This coming November 14 sees the fifth celebration of the World Day of the Poor. An initiative strongly desired by Pope Francis in order to urge the Church and the faithful to ‘go out’ to encounter poverty in the various ways it manifests itself in the modern world and in order to reach out to those most in need. This year the motto chosen to promote the Day comes from Saint Mark’s Gospel: “The poor you will always have with you” (Mk 14:7), made known as usual through the Holy Father’s Message released on the day of Saint Anthony of Padua, last June 13. As it does every year, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Vatican Dicastery charged by the Holy Father with promoting the event, organized several initiatives that were carried out in the week leading up to this day.
Pope Francis’ Meeting with the Poor at Assisi
On Friday, November 12, the Holy Father made a private visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli (‘Saint Mary of the Angels’) in Assisi where he met with a group of 500 poor people from different parts of Europe and spent time listening to and praying with them.
The Pope was welcomed by the ‘embrace of the poor’ who bestowed on him the pilgrim’s cloak and staff before accompanying him in procession to the Basilica. First Pope Francis, following in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi, paused to pray at the Portiuncula, one of the most important places in the life of the Saint, where he loved to welcome his friars and many poor people, and where Saint Clare decided to consecrate herself to the Lord. There, at the end of the celebration, the Holy Father made the significant gesture of blessing a stone previously taken from the Portiuncula by the Franciscan Friars (the Order of Friars Minor — ofm) of Umbria, destined for homeless shelter ‘Roses of Saint Francis’ of Trsat, founded in 2007 by the local fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order of Trsat, in the city of Rijeka, Croatia, whose representatives were also present.
The 500 poor people present came from the Dioceses of Umbria led by Caritas, from the French association ‘Fratello’, and from Rome in a delegation organized by the Papal Almoner and the following associations: ‘Caritas’ of the Diocese of Rome, the Circle of Saint Peter (‘Circolo San Pietro’), the Community of Saint Egidio (‘Comunità di Sant’Egidio’), the Regional Coordination of the Vincentian Family (‘Coordinamento Regionale Famiglia Vincenziana’), the Astalli Center (‘Centro Astalli’), the Roman branch of the Christian Association of Italian Workers ( ‘Associazioni Cristiane Lavoratori Italiani, — Acli di Roma’) and the French association Brother (‘Fratello’). At the end of the day, 500 backpacks, produced within the project ‘+Three’, which promotes products made in respect of environmental and economic sustainability within an ethical and socially useful supply chain, were donated to the participants. These backpacks contain winter clothing, donated by Tombolini, a well-known Italian brand name, comprising sweaters, scarves, hats, jackets, and fabric anti Covid-19 masks.
Celebration of Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica
On Sunday, November 14 at 10:00 a.m., the Holy Father will preside over the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Basilica, with the participation of 2,000 poor people, in compliance with current health regulations, assisted by various voluntary associations present in the Rome area.
The biblical readings, the prayers of the faithful will be proclaimed by some of the poor. At the end of the Eucharistic celebration, hot meals will be distributed to all participants.
Distribution of food and other products
This year, Pope Francis has wished to reserve special attention to group homes (‘CaseFamiglia’) present in the territory of the Diocese of Rome. Often offering a place to live, these structures welcome people, mainly adolescents or children together with their mothers, who are deeply in need of a protected space where they can grow up, receive an education or have an opportunity to start a new life through a gradual integration into society. In the territory, there is a very large number of group homes of all kinds, offering different services and opportunities. The material needs for managing these structures are often considerable, making it not always possible to organize an adequate response. For this reason, it has been decided, through the generosity of the Elite Supermarket chain and of pasta producer La Molisana (‘Antico Molino e Pastificio’), which has donated pasta and tomato puree, to help 40 group homes by delivering directly to their premises, a supply of food and personal care products, especially baby food, sufficient for almost two months.
Similar food packs will also be delivered to local parishes and charitable organizations. In total, about 5 tonnes of pasta, 1 tonne of rice, 2 tonnes of tomato puree, 1,000 liters of oil and 3,000 liters of milk will be distributed, just to name a few of the many items that were most requested and that will make up the various food packs to be delivered by a team of volunteers.
Distribution to families of health and personal hygiene items
Another initiative will consist in the distribution of five thousand medical “kits”, containing some of the main “over-the-counter” medicines (or OTC), to about sixty parishes in Rome who will deliver them to the needy families on their territory.
Due to the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has not been possible over the last two years to set up the Medical Unit in Saint Peter’s Square. The structure, a real ‘field hospital’, provided numerous free medical services to the poor, referred by various voluntary associations, and for whom it would normally be impossible to access these services. This year, therefore, wishing to offer a sign of closeness to people requiring specific medical assistance, and with the scope of continuing the screening activities and visits in Saint Peter’s Square, the initiative “Looking for the Virus” will be carried out, as it has already been done in the past. Therefore, a mobile medical unit equipped to carry out tests to evaluate the presence of the HCV virus (Hepatitis C) and the HIV virus, will be present in Saint Peter’s Square during the World Day of the Poor on Sunday, 14 November. The service will be available to the poor who visit the camper — which will open immediately after the Holy Father finishes the recitation of the Angelus, shortly after 12:00 noon and remain open until 6:00 p.m. The project is realized with the help of the company Regia Congressi S.r.l., the S.I.M.G. (‘Italian Society of General and Primary Care Medicine’), the Department of Infectious Diseases of the Tor Vergata University Hospital in Rome and the Italian Red Cross Volunteer Nursing Corps.
Electricity and gas bills
It is now, and every day more and more, dramatically evident how the Covid-19 pandemic has generated new forms of poverty and significantly worsened those which were already in existence. In addition to support given through the distribution of food and medicines, this celebration of the World Day of the Poor will also be characterized by another initiative made possible by the generosity of UnipolSai. About 500 families, who are experiencing economic difficulties and are often forced to turn to charitable centers, will receive assistance in paying their gas and electricity bills.
These are families who would otherwise be forced to privilege paying these bills over food or medical expenses. As Pope Francis made clear in his Message for the World Day of the Poor: “Some countries are suffering extremely severe consequences from the pandemic, so that the most vulnerable of their people lack basic necessities. The long lines in front of soup kitchens are a tangible sign of this deterioration” (n. 5).
This World Day of the Poor, with all the initiatives that will take place in dioceses around the world, is a small but significant response to Pope Francis’ call to help the poor.