On the fifth anniversary of his papacy last March 19, Pope Francis issued a new document entitled “Rejoice and Be Glad” in which he reaffirmed the centrality to his papacy of God’s love for the poor, the meek, and the merciful, as declared in the Beatitudes which Jesus proclaimed in his Sermon on the Mount.
It was a continuation of Pope Francis’ appeal for the millions of immigrants now seeking new lives away from conflicts, hunger, death, and destruction in their own lands. Defending the poor and the immigrants, he said, is “equally sacred” as defending the unborn.
He said the Church has saints who achieved such a high level of holiness, but he said there is also a “middle class of holiness” – a husband who loves his wife, a mother who patiently teaches her child, an employee who works with integrity. Perfection is not required to achieve this kind of holiness, he said.
The Pope’s latest statement appeared to be aimed at conservatives within his own Church who, he said, stress “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine, and prestige.” There are those, he said, who focus on abortion over all other issues. “Equally sacred, however,” he said, “are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
His words were believed aimed at anti-immigrant faithful in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. But for a Christian, he said, “the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.”
The Pope’s words surely were felt by many around the world – the people of many European states who have elected anti-immigration officials, the president of the United States who has banned visitors from several Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, the government and armed forces of Buddhist Myanmar which have driven off the Muslim Rohingyas.
His words must also have been felt and welcomed by our own people, so many of whom are poor, are victims of human trafficking, who seek work in other countries to support and provide a future for their families.
Pope Francis’ exhortation was directly aimed at conservatives within the Church, at doctrinaire perfectionists, who prioritize certain ideologies over basic Gospel teaching of love, mercy, and help for the poor.
We in the Philippines have more than our share of the poor. In our government’s all-out drive for national development and progress, it might focus a bit more on programs for them.