By any measure the Pope’s recent visit to Brazil for World Youth Day was a resounding success. The visit also offered a few surprises, something we are becoming accustomed to expecting from our new Holy Father.
Now, with World Youth Day in the rearview mirror, our challenge is to not overlook all that the Pope did and said. In Brazil less than a week, the Pope, much like Jesus did in leading the disciples and early followers of Christ, offered several teachable moments by his words and by his example.
One such moment came when the Pope visited the tremendously poor post-war settlement of Morro da Favela, known simply as “the favelas.” In his typically simple and humble way, the Pope, who was walking to the place where he was to speak, stopped to visit a family. He told them it was his wish to visit every home in Brazil but knew he couldn’t. “I would have liked to knock on every door, to say ‘good morning’, to ask for a glass of cold water … to speak as one would to family friends, to listen to each person pouring out his or her heart.” It was a simple gesture and simpler words, but collectively they reminded us that often the most meaningful, loving gestures are the simplest, and that we are called, indeed, to be a “poor church for the poor,” as Pope Francis said in the earliest days of his pontificate.
Harmony and happiness cannot be attained, the Pope said, “In a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself.” Serving and restoring dignity to the marginalized are hallmarks of Catholic Charities. They are also embedded in our Baptismal call to care for each other, especially those most in need. Pope Benedict XVI, during a pontificate marked by frequent calls for service to others, cautioned us not to limit ourselves in the ways in which we care for the poor. “Charity must express a genuine love for people, a love animated by a personal encounter with Christ.”
Let us try to follow the Pope’s example not only by the heroic work of Catholic Charities and by the charitable outreach of our parishes, but also by our personal love, respect, and service to the poor and needy. This is how we open the doors of our hearts and our churches to all—when we can say with Pope Francis: “No one is disposable! Only when we are able to share do we become truly rich!”