According to an ancient tradition, in some small towns in Italy, some people leave an empty chair at the Christmas dinner table. It is left for the Lord to knock at the door in the form of a poor person. This custom, recalled by the Pope during Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Sunday, 13 November, well expresses the meaning of the Sixth World Day of the Poor, which was instituted in 2016 at the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy. Even in the Vatican, alongside the hundreds of destitute people and the volunteers who assist them, there is room left for the most needy who unexpectedly knock on the door at the last moment. Gathering around the Eucharistic table on this Day and immediately afterwards sitting together with the Pope at the long table for lunch in the Paul VI Hall was a sign of the fraternal communion that breaks down distances and obstacles.
There were about 1,300 guests of the Pontiff this year, who, as a tradition, offers lunch on the occasion of this annual appointment. Many of them attended the Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica packed with faithful. Among them were several homeless and needy people assisted by Caritas Rome, the Community of Sant’Egidio, Acli, Vincentian groups and other associations. Among the initiatives organised for the occasion was a medical unit set up in Saint Peter’s Square to provide examinations and medicines to disadvantaged people.
As a tangible sign of charity, Pope Francis also offered food parcels to be distributed in the parishes of Rome. In fact, 5,000 boxes of food products including cooking oil and milk were donated to the parish priests who requested them. In addition, in the current time of crisis and economic hardship caused by the rising costs of raw materials, people in need who turn to the charity centres for aid will have their gas and electricity bills paid for.