By Anita S. Bourdin
ROME, FEB. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The founder of the ATD Fourth World Movement is a "challenge to our indifference," according to a Vatican aide who celebrated a Mass marking the progression of the priest's cause for canonization.
Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said this of Father Joseph Wresinski at a Mass in the Basilica of St. John Lateran earlier this month.
The cause for the beatification of French-born Father Wresinski (1917-1988) is now in its Vatican stage.
Joseph Wresinski was born to immigrant parents in Angers, France, living a childhood characterized by poverty and exclusion.
In 1946 he was ordained a priest, and immediately felt in his ministry a special link to the poor. Just over a decade later, he founded the first group of what would later become the ATD Fourth World Movement, a non-partisan entity that advocates for the rights of the poor.
Father Wresinski's legacy has influenced international efforts to curb poverty, notably in the United Nations' International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, celebrated every Oct. 17. It was on Oct. 17, 1987, that Father Wresinski unveiled a commemorative stone in the Trocadero Human Rights Plaza in Paris. His call is engraved on the stone: "Wherever men and women are condemned to live in poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty."
Replicas of the stone have been placed at the United Nations and in the courtyard at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
The Mass celebrated Feb. 13 by Monsignor Sánchez marked the 22nd anniversary of the priest's death on Feb. 14, 1988.
Father Wresinski continues to be "the prophetic voice of the poorest," Monsignor Sánchez said.
Noting how Christ says the poor are blessed, the monsignor affirmed that "the Beatitudes of Jesus are not an abstract proclamation, but an announcement addressed directly to the poor: to you, the poor."
"And this is also an announcement of liberation, good news. Thus also fulfilled is the prophecy of Isaiah: the Good News is proclaimed to the poor," he added.
Monsignor Sánchez characterized Father Wresinski's life as "consumed in the defense of the dignity of the poorest brothers: He had felt God's call to become one of them, and wished to reflect this vocation in his priestly motto: 'Go out into the deep and cast your nets,' [...] far from the coast, far from security, from protection and from the comforts of an ordinary priestly existence."
Father Wresinski "felt called to make one discover one's personal dignity, the dignity of children of God, of our brothers," he continued.
The Vatican aide affirmed that for Father Wresinski, "To share his life with the poor was not for him a way of resolving the economic or social problem, of eliminating pockets of extreme poverty on the outskirts of cities because they are not pretty or because they constitute a threat to public order or to health or because they are potential factors of social disorders.
"For him, it was a matter of helping to discover the dignity of every man and woman, even in the situation of extreme poverty."
Monsignor Sánchez added that "wherever men are condemned to live in poverty, human rights are violated. It is a sacred duty to unite to make them be respected."
Today, he concluded, Father Wresinski's life is a real "challenge to our indifference, to our resignation to the fatality of poverty."
The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is now celebrated in many countries and more replicas of the Trocadero plaque have been unveiled in recent years in Burkina Faso, the Island of Mauritius, Quebec and Belgium.
One of the objectives of the Oct. 17 international day is "to let the poorest speak, to listen to what they have to say, not only in relation to poverty and the way to combat it but also on peace, justice and the future of the world and of societies," Jean Tonglet, director of the Joseph Wresinski Center in France, told ZENIT. "This attitude of listening is yet another thing that Oct. 17 intends to promote so that we can live it together day after day."
Father Marc Leclerc, postulator of Father Wresinski's cause of beatification, explained that the diocesan phase opened in Soissons, France, in 1997 and closed in 2003.
The 20,000 pages of documentation were sent to the Vatican Congregation for Saints' Causes.
According to Father Leclerc, "Since then, we have received the decree of validity on the part of the Congregation, a relator has been appointed, Jesuit Father Hieronim Fokcinski, and the Roman phase of the process has been officially opened."
By Anita S. Bourdin