Be a Samaritan, be an innkeeper
Pope Francis invites everyone to be part of new structures that alleviate poverty
By Emilie Christy
In 2014, not long after being elected, Pope Francis invited representatives of 100 different grassroots organizations from 60 different countries around the world. Day laborers, street dwellers, urban recyclers, farmers, domestic help, fishermen and young observers all gathered at the Vatican to begin a dialogue between movements and the Catholic Church on many levels.
There have now been three consecutive gatherings in 2015, 2016, and a national 2017 meeting in Modesto, California. The numbers have grown to nearly 700 organizations and social justice advocates from 12 countries. In his address to each of these meetings, Pope Francis did not mince words as he spotlighted the scandal of poverty in the world, where land for cultivation, adequate housing and the dignity of work are ever more distant for the majority of people.
The aims of these unique gatherings are to give a voice to those normally in the shadows so they can speak through their experiences; to accompany and encourage them to take a lead role in their own progress; to identify structural causes of poverty and inequality and seek inclusive alternatives to current models; to build a relationship between various organizations and the Catholic Church, helping them discover the value of solidarity in the common dream of a society that respects the dignity of all its members.
Pope Francis observes that “in our time, humanity is experiencing a turning point in its history … certain realities, unless effectively dealt with, are capable of setting off processes of dehumanization that would be hard to reverse.”
He suggests that the grave danger is disowning our neighbors, since when we do so, we deny their humanity and our own, not to mention the most important commandment of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The question from the Gospel of Luke (10:25–37) then reverberates in our ears: “Who is my neighbor?” Who is that other whom we are to love as we love ourselves?
Jesus responds with the parable of the Samaritan, who didn’t pass by the injured man as the priest and Levite did, but instead acted with compassion, bound his wounds, carried him to the inn and provided for his care. This parable illustrates that compassion, love, is not a vague sentiment, but rather a concrete action, a commitment to draw near to others to the point of identifying with them.
As Francis points out: “This is the Lord’s commandment.” At times, he continues, we turn away from a brother or sister in need, or “change channels as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil but do nothing about it … God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good.”
Like the first two people before the Good Samaritan, today our society often looks the other way from those who suffer without touching them.
“They’re talked about in euphemisms, with tolerance,” says Pope Francis, “but nothing is done systematically to heal the social wounds or confront structures that leave so many brothers and sisters by the wayside.”
He cites the tremendous upheaval in economic, familial and cultural life caused by globalization that now “requires the creation of major new structures of social justice designed to mitigate the consequences that have devastated so many sectors of the human family.” Market forces have elevated efficiency and productivity as the absolute values in human life, as opposed to objective values that transcend the market and are most important in human relations: truth, justice, love, the dignity and rights of all.
The daily news reports, he acknowledges, can lull one into thinking that nothing can be done on a larger scale, so I’ll just take care of myself and my family, and let life go on as it will.
“What can I do about all these problems if I barely make enough money to put food on the table? What can I do as an individual craftsman, a street vendor, a truck driver …What can do I when I face discrimination and marginalization daily? What can be done by those students, those activists, those missionaries who come to my neighborhood with their hearts full of hopes and dreams, but without any real solution for my problems?”
“A lot!” says Pope Francis. “I would even say that the future of humanity is in great measure in your own hands, through your ability to organize and carry out creative alternatives, through your daily efforts to guarantee the three “Ls” (labor, lodging, land), and through your proactive participation in the great processes of change on the national, regional and global levels.
“Poverty has a face! It has the face of a child; it has the face of a family; it has the face of people, young and old. It has the face of widespread unemployment and lack of opportunity. It has the face of forced migrations, and of empty or destroyed homes,” said Pope Francis during a visit to the Rome headquarters of the UN’s World Food Program (WPF) …
“If the people behind the statistics are not recognized,” he said, “the world can yield to the temptation of discussing hunger, food, violence as concepts without reference to the real people knocking on our doors today.
“You must become a Samaritan, and then also become like the innkeeper at the end of the parable to whom the Samaritan entrusts the person who is suffering.” Then the pope asks: “Who is the innkeeper? It is the Church, the Christian community, people of compassion and solidarity, social organizations. It is us, it is you, to whom Jesus daily entrusts those who are afflicted in body and spirit …
Here are the roots of the authentic humanity that resists dehumanization that wears the livery of indifference, hypocrisy or intolerance.”
He sees each person as a sower of change —
engaged in the process of change — a transformation of structures that produce poverty into ones that support the healthy development of people and communities.
“Each of us is just one part of a complex and differentiated whole, interacting in time: a people struggling to find meaning, a destiny and to live with dignity, to ‘live well,’” he says. The responsibility “doesn’t lie solely in the hands of great leaders and the elites. It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and their ability to organize… to guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”
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