By Michelle Hough
‘Lady Poverty’ was St Francis’s bride and Pope Francis has put the need for commitment to the poor up front and centre from the very beginning of his pontificate.
After two days of voting, white smoke puffed out of the tiny chimney above St Peter’s Square on 13th March 2013. The man who came out on the massive balcony in front of St Peter’s basilica as the new Pope was unknown to many outside of his native Argentina.
The new Pope Francis is a man who visited slums and rode on buses. He is a man who refused the fur-trimmed cloak, red leather shoes and gold cross worn by previous Popes. He is a man of startling simplicity.
The Pope spoke to the crowd that night in his role as Bishop of Rome and protector of the poor: “And now let us begin this journey, bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which is the one that leads all the churches in charity.”
Two days later, Pope Francis met with the world’s journalists at the Vatican, where he said, “How I would like a church that is poor and that is for the poor.”
It was at this meeting with the press that the Pope revealed what another cardinal said to him in the conclave when it became clear he was going to be chosen as Pope: “Don’t forget the poor!”
On St Joseph’s day, 19th March, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Holy Father’s inaugural mass. There he spoke of service, tenderness and the opening our arms to the weakest.
“Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross. He must be inspired by the lowly, concrete, and faithful service which marked Saint Joseph and, like him, he must open his arms to protect all of God’s people and embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgement on love: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Only those who serve with love are able to protect!”
But for Pope Francis, poverty is not just absence of material comforts. When addressing the world’s ambassador’s to the Holy See recently, he said, “Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up. But it is a difficult journey, if we do not learn to grow in love for this world of ours.”
The message the Pope has been giving is loud and strong. It is a message of caritas. And in case we still think that building up our wealth while the poor suffer will save us, Pope Francis told the faithful on Palm Sunday, “My grandmother used to tell us children, ‘A shroud has no pockets!’”