On Saturday, Pope Francis met with an Italian group dedicated to the service of the poor, encouraging them to continue their concrete works of mercy rather than falling prey to the risk of becoming well-informed spectators. “It’s necessary that our words, our gestures, our attitudes express solidarity, the will to not remain extraneous to the sorrows of others, and this with fraternal warmth and without falling into some forms of paternalism,” the Pope told the tens of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square on June 14. “We have at our disposal a lot of information and statistics on poverty and on human tribulations. There is a risk of becoming the most informed spectators and (yet) removed from these realities,” he cautioned, “or to make nice discourses that conclude with verbal solutions” but are “disengaged with respect to real problems.” Pope Francis spoke emphatically about how he hears “too many words, too many words!” from people who are well-informed, but never do anything. “But not you!” he added as the members of Italy’s oldest volunteer organization, the “Misericordie” or “Mercies,” cheered at his encouragement of their service to the needy. He thanked them for their work, a committed “witness to the Gospel in charity with the sick, the elderly, the disabled, youth, immigrants, and the poor.” “All of your service takes meaning and form from this word, ‘mercy,’” he continued, noting that the Latin etymology of the word means “to give heart to those who are miserable.” The Holy Father went on to reflect upon the example of Jesus, who “opened his heart to the miseries of man.” “The Gospel is rich with episodes that present the mercy of Jesus, the gratuitousness of his love for the suffering and the weak.” It is in these passages that we can see “the closeness, the goodness, the tenderness with which Jesus came close to suffering people and consoled them.” “In the example of our Teacher, we too are called to place ourselves near, to share the condition of people we meet,” the Pope stressed. Jesus does not “make plans” for the poor, but rather “stops at the very first one He encounters, becoming a presence that gives aid, a sign of the closeness of God who is goodness, providence, and love.” The pontiff concluded his remarks by thanking those who serve the needy in the corporal works of mercy: “thank you, thank you so much for what you do!” He blessed them and then said, “please, don’t forget to pray for me. I need it too!”
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