Pope Francis’ first Lenten Message focuses on poverty and Christ’s poverty in particular, according to the head of the Vatican dicastery that is responsible for disseminating it.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum”, told reporters at a Vatican press conference Feb. 4 that the concept of poverty is “very dear” to Pope Francis, who since the beginning of his pontificate has attempted to emphasise this dimension of Christian life.
But the Guinean cardinal stressed that the Christian vision of poverty is not the same as that which is commonly held. “Too often we consider poverty from a sociological perspective, and it is understood as a lack of material goods,” he said. “Furthermore, the concept of a “poor Church for the poor” is often evoked as a sort of challenge to the Church, unfortunately also setting a Church of the poor, “a good Church … against a Church of preaching and truth, a Church dedicated to prayer and to the defence of doctrine and morals”.
He continued: “The first point of reference for a Christian to understand poverty is indeed Christ, who made himself poor so that he could enrich us through his poverty.” But Cardinal Sarah said Christ’s choice of poverty suggests “a positive dimension” to poverty which resonates throughout the Gospel, and which proclaims that the poor are blessed.
“It is clear that in this dimension of poverty there is an aspect of despoliation and sacrifice,” he said, but this is possible because Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son’.
“We cannot set our bourgeois consciences at rest, the Pope means, by denouncing material lack on the part of others or denouncing poverty as a system,” the Vatican official explained. “The Lenten Message we are presenting here today makes an important distinction between poverty and destitution.
“It is not poverty, which is an evangelical attitude, but rather destitution that we wish to combat,” he stressed.
The cardinal explained that the Holy Father lists three forms of destitution in his Message: material, moral and spiritual. The first affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity.
“Faced with this form of destitution, the Church offers her service, ‘her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity’,” the cardinal explained. “Moral destitution consists in slavery to vice and sin. This form of destitution is also the cause of economic ruin, and is always linked to spiritual destitution, which occurs when we drift away from God and refuse His love”.
He said he believed this broader view of poverty, of destitution, offers a more “complete vision” of man and his needs,” without falling in the trap of anthropological reductionism which claims to resolve all the problems of the human person simply by resolving the problems of physical and material well-being”.
The president of Cor Unum recalled that in the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium”, Pope Francis writes that the Church’s preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a “privileged and preferential religious care”. He affirmed that this concept is fundamental “so as not to transform the Church into that non-governmental organisation” – a point Pope Francis made in his first homily as Pontiff.
“It would be a great pity if our gaze upon those in need failed to acknowledge the spiritual poverty that often lurks in the heart of man and pains him deeply, even though he may be in a condition of material comfort,” Cardinal Sarah said. “But if we wish to fully grasp Pope Francis’ Message, we must not consider it only in terms of its anthropological value. Man is by nature the son of God. This is his wealth!”
He added that the “great flaw” of modern culture is that it has imagined mankind capable of being happy without God, thus denying that which is most profound in the human person. “It is a crime to deprive the poor of the presence of God, just as it is a crime to consider man and allow man to live as if God did not exist, to negate his being as a creation and therefore his fundamental belonging and affiliation with God,” he said. “Therefore, work in development cannot be simply that of creating new needs, but rather taking a serious look at what the person truly is”.
Before the presentation, Cardinal Sarah announced that in March he will visit Haiti again, in order to open a school financed on behalf of the Pope as a sign of his closeness to the Haitian population, afflicted in 2010 by an earthquake which claimed more than 220,000 victims and affected a total of more than 3 million people.
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