With a pilgrim’s staff and mantle, Pope Francis entered Assisi’s Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels with 500 economically or socially disadvantaged people and the volunteers who walk alongside them.
The pope’s pilgrimage to Assisi Nov. 12 was dedicated totally to the poor in preparation for the celebration Nov. 14 of the World Day of the Poor.
Six of them shared their stories with Pope Francis — stories of crime and prison or of drugs and alcohol, stories of being forced to flee their homeland or living on the street, but especially stories of steadfast or newfound faith, of finding a helping hand and of learning to see the face of Christ in the poor.
The Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels is built around the Portiuncula, the small chapel where, Pope Francis explained, “St. Francis welcomed St. Clare, the first brothers and many poor people who came to him.”
“He received them simply as brothers and sisters, sharing everything with them,” the pope said. “This is the most evangelical expression we are called to make our own: hospitality,” which means opening the door, “the door of our house and the door of our heart, and to allow the person who knocks to come in and feel welcomed, not ashamed.”
“An open heart and outstretched hand” is always the first step in creating a true encounter, he said. It also is the way to experience the truth that “every one of us needs the other, and that even weakness, if experienced together, can become a strength that will make the world better.”
If people don’t learn how to encounter each other with sincerity, he said, “we’ll move toward a very sad end.”
For too many people, the presence of the poor in their cities is “an annoyance,” he said. “Sometimes we hear it said that those responsible for poverty are the poor — an added insult!”
“So as not to carry out a serious examination of conscience on one’s own actions, on the injustice of certain laws and economic measures, on the hypocrisy of those who want to enrich themselves excessively, blame is laid at the feet of those who are weakest,” Pope Francis said.
“It is time for the poor to be given back their voice,” he said.
“It is time for eyes to be opened to see the state of inequality in which many families live,” the pope insisted. “It is time for sleeves to be rolled up so dignity can be restored by creating jobs.
“It is time to be scandalized once again before the reality of children who are starving, reduced to slavery, tossed about in the water in the aftermath of a shipwreck, innocent victims of every sort of violence,” the pope said. “It is time that violence against women cease and that they be respected and not treated like bargaining chips.”
“It is time for the circle of indifference to be broken so as to discover once again the beauty of encounter and dialogue,” Pope Francis said.
Before leading the poor in prayer, the pope thanked them for all the effort they expend to survive.
“To hold out” or hold on “is not a passive action” he said. It takes courage, strength and persistence in finding “reasons for not giving up when confronted with difficulties, knowing that we do not experience them alone but together, and that only together can we overcome them.”