Pope Francis and the Poor

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Thursday, August 14, 2014


RIGHT from his first appearance as pope on the St Peter Square in Rome, Pope Francis appeals to many people by the way he speaks and acts. He gives people the impression that he stands beside them and is concerned about their fate. His message is that the Church must be attractive, must address itself to people and must be concerned about the fate of the poor.

“The joy of the Gospel” (Evangelii Gaudium in Latin) is a letter that he has written, which was published last year. The Pope says there among others, that the Gospel is a message of joy, that the Church is particularly missionary and directed towards the outside and that the Gospel in the first place is good news for the poor. In this letter the readers are called to express what touches them in the Gospel message.

The Pope asks the faithful to reflect on the question: How do we personally and in the community contribute to an attractive Church which has a message for society and which takes special responsibility for the fate of the poor?

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Actually the Pope invites us to get into a discussion with each other about what the Pope says there in his letter. This discussion can be done in many different places in parishes and fate communities, in religious communities and groups, in conversation groups, reflection groups and reading groups and in groups which are part of- and engaged in social organizations.

I believe, the BCC-CO program is in particular a relevant program to fulfill our mission to bring the good news to the poor. Through this program we make the poor aware of their situation of poverty and why is it that they are poor. In most instances they are poor because they are exploited and taken advantage of by the rich. The rich deny them their right to organize themselves and to demand a living wage and job security from their employer.

If they don’t get this then they can organize a strike to enforce their demands. All these rights are embodied in the traditional social doctrine of the Church which has been emphasized again by the Second Vatican Council in 1963. All these rights have been abolished by Marcos when he declared martial law in 1972.

It is high time that these rights are being restored by our government. These are basic human rights. Our legislators must embody these rights again in our constitution. If we call ourselves a Christian nation, our Christianity must be reflected in our Constitution. I believe, the Church in the Philippines must make this one of its priorities, so that the Church will really become a Church of the Poor.

I experienced all this last week, when I attended in Manila a seminar on the different religions in Asia, the Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian religions. The theme of the conference was “Dancing with God in the 21st Century Philippines; In the Context of the Occurrence of a Disaster.” It was referring itself among others to the ‘Super Typhoon’ Yolanda.

All the different religions in Asia speak of ‘a dance with God’ whose presence they invoke when they know that only a supernatural power could save them from the tragic consequences of a disaster. They have their rituals, like our native people have them, where they cry out their prayers as they face the possibility of death and cling to statues and icons of saints – especially Mary in her various titles and other patron saints – in the hope that the saints’ interventions could save them and their loved ones.

Our Church must respect these rituals while, in that sense, she can become a Church of the Poor as Pope Francis wants it to be.

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 14, 2014.

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