“Continue along the path of voluntary and disinterested commitment,” Pope Francis encouraged international Christian service groups on Thursday. “There is so much need for a witness of the value of giving freely.” But, he warned, “the poor cannot become an occasion for personal gain!”
“Your Federation,” the Pope said, “carries out a valuable role in the world.” It is the image of a Church that “bends down to serve brothers and sisters in difficulty,” he said. “Starting from your Christian identity,” Francis continued, “you present yourselves as ‘volunteers in the world’ with a number of development projects to offer concrete answers to the scandal of hunger and wars.”
Along with thanking the workers for their service, he also urged them to help the poor become the agents of their own prosperity. “You are called,” he said, “to become a tool in the service of the self-leadership of the poor.” The Pope invoked solidarity with the poor as the guiding principle “to make history with the poor, avoiding supposedly altruistic works that reduce the other to passivity.”
In saying this, Francis echoed earlier a thought he has expressed elsewhere. In an important text from 2013, the Pope wrote that humanity needs “to grow in a solidarity which would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” and advocated “an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality.” In that same text, Francis warned against “any attempt to exploit the poor for one’s own personal or political interest.”
In Thursday’s address, the Pope also returned to a favorite theme of his, rumored to be the topic of a upcoming major papal document: ecology. “Among the main causes of poverty, Francis said, “is an economic system that plunders nature. I am thinking in particular of deforestation, but also environmental disasters and the loss of biodiversity.” The Pope reiterated that “creation is not our property to do with as we please, and still less the property only of a few. Creation is a wonderful gift that God has given us in order to take care of and use it for the benefit of all,” he said.
Thomas D. Williams can be followed on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome