91 – For the Church, the option for the poor is a theological category. I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives

“Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!” These were the last words pronounced by Madame Roland, one of the vital participants of the French Revolution, before she lay her head on the block to be guillotined. The phrase became legendary for so clearly expressing how certain concepts are subject to manipulation, for this woman was being condemned in the name of the same false ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity that she had formerly defended.

Each epoch has certain omnivalent catchphrases which, when shrewdly employed, serve to provoke the masses and to move those human interests under whose shadow revolutions lurk. If in those days the amulet-word was “liberty”, in our days it doesn’t seem exaggerated to affirm it as “poverty”.

Throughout two thousand years, the Church has always stood out for its love and maternal care toward the needy, so much so that many Pontiffs spoke of a “preferential option” for the poor. However, the connotation of this difficult human condition seems to be suffering a strange metamorphosis…What does the Magisterium teach us regarding the poor? Why does the Church show concern for the poor, and how has it always understood this arduous human predicament? Should the Church be poor? In what manner?


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How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor! (Address to representatives of the communications media, March 16, 2013)
For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God shows the poor “his first mercy”. This divine preference has consequences for the faith life of all Christians, since we are called to have “this mind… which was in Jesus Christ” (Phil 2:5). Inspired by this, the Church has made an option for the poor which is understood as a “special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness”. This option – as Benedict XVI has taught – “is implicit in our Christian faith in a God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty”. This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to acknowledge the saving power at work in their lives and to put them at the centre of the Church’s pilgrim way. We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voice to their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them. (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, no. 198)
Money is an instrument made to serve, and poverty is at the heart of the Gospel. And Jesus speaks of this conflict: two lords, two masters. I either follow one or the other. I either follow he who is my Father or I follow he who makes me a slave. And afterward, the truth: the devil always enters through people’s pockets, always. It’s his way in. We must fight to make a poor Church for the poor according to the Gospel, right? We must fight. And when I consider Matthew 25, which is the protocol about what we will be judged for, I understand better the meaning of ‘a poor Church for the poor:’ the works of mercy, right? In Matthew 25. It is possible, but we should fight, because the temptation for riches is very great. (Interview with TV2000 on the Year of Mercy, November 20, 2016)
A poverty teaches solidarity, sharing and charity, and is also expressed in moderation and joy in the essential, to put us on guard against material idols that obscure the real meaning of life. A poverty learned with the humble, the poor, the sick and all those who are on the existential outskirts of life. A theoretical poverty is no use to us. Poverty is learned by touching the flesh of the poor Christ, in the humble, in the poor, in the sick and in children. (Address to the participants in the plenary assembly of the International Union of Superiors General, May 8, 2013)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter in the various parts of our study

I – Who will save us? Christ or poverty?
II –
How the Church always considered poverty and why it has concern for the poor
Should the Church be poor? In what manner?
IV –
The saints, rich or poor, are the true evangelizers in the Church

I – Who will save us? Christ or poverty?

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The ultimate normative principle: the truth revealed by God himself. To place the poor as the point of departure is a misrepresentation of the faith

In his book ‘Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological View’, Father Sobrino affirms: “Latin American Christology…identifies its setting, in the sense of a real situation, as the poor of this world, and this situation is what must be present in and permeate any particular setting in which Christology is done” Further, […] “the Church of the poor…is the ecclesial setting of Christology because it is a world shaped by the poor” […] While such a preoccupation for the poor and oppressed is admirable, in these quotations the “Church of the poor” assumes the fundamental position which properly belongs to the faith of the Church. It is only in this ecclesial faith that all other theological foundations find their correct epistemological setting. The ecclesial foundation of Christology may not be identified with “the Church of the poor”, but is found rather in the apostolic faith transmitted through the Church for all generations. The theologian, in his particular vocation in the Church, must continually bear in mind that theology is the science of the faith. Other points of departure for theological work run the risk of arbitrariness and end in a misrepresentation of the same faith. […] theological reflection cannot have a foundation other than the faith of the Church. […] Thus the truth revealed by God himself in Jesus Christ, and transmitted by the Church, constitutes the ultimate normative principle of theology. Nothing else may surpass it. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Notification on the works of Fr. Jon Sobrino, S.J., nos.2.11. November 26, 2006)

Saint Ambrose of Milan

Material poverty is not holy in itself

In truth, not all poverty is holy, nor is all richness criminal. (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Expositon on the Gospel of St. Luke. L. VIII, no. 13: PL 15,1769)

Not all the poor are blessed

Not all the poor are blessed for poverty is of itself neutral: there can be evil or good people who are poor. (Saint Ambrose of Milan. Expositon on the Gospel of St. Luke. L. V, no. 53: PL 15, 1650)

John Paul II

The poor of the Beatitudes are not indigents

It should be remembered that even in the Old Testament the ‘poor of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 74: 19; 149: 4ss) were mentioned as an object of divine benevolence (Is 49:13; 66:2). This did not refer simply to those who were in a state of indigence, but rather the humble who sought God and put themselves with confidence under his protection. These dispositions of humility and confidence clarify the expression that the Evangelist Matthew employed in the version of the Beatitude: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Mt 5:3). Poor in spirit are all of those who do not put their confidence in money or in material goods, but rather, on the contrary, open themselves to the Kingdom of God. But it is precisely this, the value of the poverty that Jesus praised and counseled as an option of life, that could include a voluntary renunciation of goods, and precisely in favor of the poor. It is a privilege of some to be chosen and called by him to follow this path. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 4, November 30, 1994)

Congregation for the Cause of Saints

A needy person could be selfish and cling on to the only coin that he possesses

The famous passage of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel, […] is addressed first of all to the ‘poor in spirit’, a biblical expression that refers to those who have a free heart and free hands. The Gospel category, so to speak, of the poor in spirit does not refer merely to the needy, since it is possible to possess nothing and yet be selfish, clinging to the only coin in one’s possession. On the contrary, this category denotes those who detach themselves from concrete and private things, who do not base their security and trust on goods, success, pride or the cold idols of gold and power but are rather open to God and to their brethren. (Congregation for the Cause of Saints. Homily of Cardinal José Saraiva Martins for the Beatification of Sister Giuseppina Nicoli, February 3, 2008)

John Paul II

The rich in God are always blessed with Heaven, whether possessing earthly goods or lacking them

Poor in spirit are those who, lacking earthly goods, know how to live with human dignity, the values of a spiritual poverty rich in God; and those who, possessing earthly goods, live an interior detachment and the communication of goods with those who suffer necessity. The kingdom of heaven is of the poor in spirit. This is the recompense that Jesus promised them. There is nothing more that can be promised. (John Paul II. Homily during the Mass for youth in the Hipodrome of Monterrico, no. 10, February 2, 1985)

Pius XI

All, rich or poor, must keep their eye fixed on heaven

All Christians, rich or poor, must keep their eye fixed on heaven, remembering that ‘we have not here a lasting city, but we seek one that is to come’ (Heb 13:14). The rich should not place their happiness in things of earth nor spend their best efforts in the acquisition of them. Rather, considering themselves only as stewards of their earthly goods, let them be mindful of the account they must render of them to their Lord and Master, and value them as precious means that God has put into their hands for doing good; let them not fail, besides, to distribute of their abundance to the poor, according to the evangelical precept (Lk 11:41). […] But the poor too, in their turn, while engaged, according to the laws of charity and justice, in acquiring the necessities of life and also in bettering their condition, should always remain ‘poor in spirit’ (Mt 5:3), and hold spiritual goods in higher esteem than earthly property and pleasures. Let them remember that the world will never be able to rid itself of misery, sorrow and tribulation, which are the portion even of those who seem most prosperous. Patience, therefore, is the need of all, that Christian patience which comforts the heart with the divine assurance of eternal happiness. […] Only thus will be fulfilled the consoling promise of the Lord: ‘Blessed are the poor!’ (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, no. 44-45, March 19, 1937)


Whether we have riches in abundance, or are lacking in them, virtue alone will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness

God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place. As for riches and the other things which men call good and desirable, whether we have them in abundance, or are lacking in them-so far as eternal happiness is concerned – it makes no difference; the only important thing is to use them aright. […] From contemplation of this divine Model, it is more easy to understand that the true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue; that virtue is, moreover, the common inheritance of men, equally within the reach of high and low, rich and poor; and that virtue, and virtue alone, wherever found, will be followed by the rewards of everlasting happiness. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Rerum novarum, nos. 21. 24, May 15, 1891)

Saint John Chrysostom

Poverty at one time leads to blasphemy, at another to wisdom - according to the disposition of the user

For there are some things good, some evil, some between the two. The good are chastity, and humility, and the like, which when a man chooses he becomes good. But opposed to these are the evil, which when a man chooses he becomes bad; and there are the neutral, as riches, which at one time indeed are directed to good, as to almsgiving, at other times to evil, as to covetousness. And in like manner poverty at one time leads to blasphemy, at another to wisdom, according to the disposition of the user. (Saint John Chrysostom. Cited by St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea in Lucam ch. 12, v. 16-21)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Perfection consists not in poverty but in following Christ

Perfection consists, essentially, not in poverty, but in following Christ, according to the saying of Jerome (Super Mt 19,27): “Since it is not enough to leave all, Peter adds that which is perfect, namely, ‘We have followed Thee,’” while poverty is like an instrument or exercise for the attainment of perfection. Hence in the Conferences of the Fathers (Coll 1,7) the abbot Moses says: ‘Fastings, watchings, meditating on the Scriptures, poverty, and privation of all one’s possessions are not perfection, but means of perfection.’ Now the privation of one’s possessions, or poverty, is a means of perfection, inasmuch as by doing away with riches we remove certain obstacles to charity; and these are chiefly three. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 188, a. 7)

Perfection can also coexist with great opulence: Abraham was rich

The perfection of the Christian life does not essentially consist in voluntary poverty, but voluntary poverty conduces instrumentally to the perfection of life. Hence it does not follow that where there is greater poverty there is greater perfection; indeed the highest perfection is compatible with great wealth, since Abraham, to whom it was said (Gen 17:1): ‘Walk before Me and be perfect,’ is stated to have been rich (Gen 13:2). (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica II-II, q. 185, ad. 1)

Nothing prevents a vice from arising out of poverty

And since neither riches, nor poverty, nor any external thing is in itself man’s good, but they are only so as they are ordered to the good of reason, nothing prevents a vice from arising out of any of them, when they do not come within man’s use in accord with the rule of reason. Yet they are not to be judged evil in themselves; rather, the use of them may be evil. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles. Book III, Ch. 134, no. 6)

Saint Basil the Great

Involuntary poverty in itself is not blessed. The poor who are covetous: this poverty does not save, their affections condemn

But not every one oppressed with poverty is blessed, but he who has preferred the commandment of Christ to worldly riches. For many are poor in their possessions, yet most covetous in their disposition; these poverty does not save, but their affections condemn. For nothing involuntary deserves a blessing, because all virtue is characterized by the freedom of the will. Blessed then is the poor man as being the disciple of Christ. (Saint Basil the Great. Cited by Saint Thomas Aquinas Catena Aurea In Lucam Ch. 6 v. 20-23)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The Church receives from Christ the truth of salvation that she offers to mankind

This truth which comes from God has its centre in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. From him, who is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6), the Church receives all that she has to offer to mankind. Through the mystery of the Incarnate Word and Redeemer of the world, she possesses the truth regarding the Father and his love for us, and also the truth concerning man and his freedom. Through his Cross and Resurrection, Christ has brought about our Redemption, which is liberation in the strongest sense of the word, since it has freed us from the most radical evil, namely sin and the power of death. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Libertatis conscientia on Christian Freedom and Liberation, no. 3, March 22, 1986)

By the power of his Paschal Mystery, Christ has set us free

The Son of God who has made himself poor for love of us wishes to be recognized in the poor, in those who suffer or are persecuted: ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25: 40). But is it above all by the power of his Paschal Mystery that Christ has set us free. Through his perfect obedience on the Cross and through the glory of his Resurrection, the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world and opened for us the way to definitive liberation (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Libertatis conscientia on Christian Freedom and Liberation, no. 3, March 22, 1986)

John Paul II

Salvation can only come from Jesus Christ

If we go back to the beginnings of the Church, we find a clear affirmation that Christ is the one Savior of all, the only one able to reveal God and lead to God. In reply to the Jewish religious authorities who question the apostles about the healing of the lame man, Peter says: ‘By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well…. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:10, 12). This statement, which was made to the Sanhedrin, has a universal value, since for all people —Jews and Gentiles alike— salvation can only come from Jesus Christ. (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris missio, no. 5, December 7, 1990)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The Redemption, accomplished by Jesus, is made efficacious through the Sacraments

The mystery of the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God become man, is the unique and inexhaustible font of the redemption of humanity, made efficacious in the Church through the sacraments. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the works of Fr. Jon Sobrino SJ, no. 10, November 26, 2006)

John Paul II

Only those who suffer in union with Christ and the Church can participate in the redemptive suffering

For, whoever suffers in union with Christ— just as the Apostle Paul bears his ‘tribulations’ in union with Christ— not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to but also ‘completes’ by his suffering ‘what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’. […] The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. […] Only within this radius and dimension of the Church as the Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of ‘what is lacking’ in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of ‘completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church’. It is precisely the Church, which ceaselessly draws on the infinite resources of the Redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, which is the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, no. 24, February 11, 1984)

II – How the Church always considered poverty and why it has concern for the poor

John Paul II

The Church’s love for the poor is a part of her constant tradition

As far as the Church is concerned, the social message of the Gospel must not be considered a theory, but above all else a basis and a motivation for action. Inspired by this message, some of the first Christians distributed their goods to the poor, bearing witness to the fact that, despite different social origins, it was possible for people to live together in peace and harmony. Through the power of the Gospel, down the centuries monks tilled the land, men and women Religious founded hospitals and shelters for the poor, Confraternities as well as individual men and women of all states of life devoted themselves to the needy and to those on the margins of society, convinced as they were that Christ’s words ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40) were not intended to remain a pious wish, but were meant to become a concrete life commitment. […] The Church’s love for the poor, […] and a part of her constant tradition. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 57, May 1, 1991)

Paul VI

The Church's mission cannot be reduced to a simply temporal project.

Many, even generous Christians […] are frequently tempted to reduce her mission to the dimensions of a simply temporal project. They would reduce her aims to a man-centered goal; the salvation of which she is the messenger would be reduced to material well-being. Her activity, forgetful of all spiritual and religious preoccupation, would become initiatives of the political or social order. But if this were so, the Church would lose her fundamental meaning. Her message of liberation would no longer have any originality and would easily be open to monopolization and manipulation by ideological systems and political parties. She would have no more authority to proclaim freedom as in the name of God. This is why we have wished to emphasize, in the same address at the opening of the Synod, […] the kingdom of God, before anything else, in its fully theological meaning….’ (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 32, December 8, 1975)

Benedict XVI

There are many forms of poverty other than material poverty

Fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization […] Yet the reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan […] This perspective requires an understanding of poverty that is wide-ranging and well articulated. If it were a question of material poverty alone, then the social sciences, which enable us to measure phenomena on the basis of mainly quantitative data, would be sufficient to illustrate its principal characteristics. Yet we know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity. On the one hand, I have in mind what is known as “moral underdevelopment”, and on the other hand the negative consequences of “superdevelopment”. (Benedict XVI. Message for the celebration of the 42nd World Day of Peace, no. 2, January 1, 2009)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Church’s love for the poor extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty

‘The Church’s love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition.’ This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor. Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to ‘be able to give to those in need’ (Eph 4:28). It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2444)

John Paul II

The primacy of attention should be for spiritual forms of poverty

True evangelizing zeal is roused in sympathy above all for the situation of spiritual necessity – at times extreme – in which so many men and women find themselves. Consider the number of those who do not know Christ, or have a deformed image of Him, or have abandoned his following, seeking their own well-being in the attractions of this secularized society or through the hateful confrontation of ideological battles. In light of this poverty of spirit, the Christian may not remain passive: he must pray, give testimony of his faith at each moment, and speak of Christ, of his great love, with courage and charity! And he should seek that these brothers approach or return to the Lord and to his Mystical Body, which is the Church, through a profound and joyful conversion of their lives, that gives meaning and eternal value throughout all of their earthly journey. The primacy of this attention to the spiritual forms of human poverty, will impede that the preferential love of Christ for the poor –of which the Church participates– be interpreted with exclusively socio-economic categories, and will remove all danger of injust discrimination in pastoral action. (John Paul II. Homily during the Celebration of the Word with the faithful of Viedma, April 7, 1987)

Pius XI

No one is so poor as he who is deprived of God’s grace

Since no one can be thought so poor and naked, no one so infirm or hungry, as he who is deprived of the knowledge and grace of God, so there is no one who cannot understand that both the mercy and the rewards of God shall be given to him who, on his part, shows mercy to the neediest of his fellow-beings. (Pius XI. Encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae, no. 14, February 28, 1926)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The first poverty is not to know Christ
In this way, the Congregation seeks to be of service to the people of God, and particularly to the simple and poorest members of the Church. From the beginning, this preoccupation for the poor has been one of the characteristics of the Church’s mission. If it is true, as the Holy Father has indicated, that ‘the first poverty among people is not to know Christ’, (Benedict XVI, Lenten Message 2006). then all people have the right to know the Lord Jesus, who is “the hope of the nations and the salvation of the peoples”. What is more, each Christian has the right to know in an adequate, authentic, and integral manner the truth which the Church professes and expresses about Christ. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the works of Fr. Jon Sobrino S.J., no. 1, November 26, 2006)
Human misery is the obvious sign of the need for salvation

In its various forms – material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illnesses, and finally death – human misery is the obvious sign of the natural condition of weakness in which man finds himself since original sin and the sign of his need for salvation. Hence it drew the compassion of Christ the Savior to take it upon himself and to be identified with the least of his brethren (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, no. 68, March 22, 1986)

Paul VI

The deep solicitude of the Church for the needs of men is born of the desire to illuminate them with the light of Christ

We confess that the Kingdom of God begun here below in the Church of Christ is not of this world whose form is passing, and that its proper growth cannot be confounded with the progress of civilization, of science or of human technology, but that it consists in an ever more profound knowledge of the unfathomable riches of Christ, an ever stronger hope in eternal blessings, an ever more ardent response to the love of God, and an ever more generous bestowal of grace and holiness among men. […] The deep solicitude of the Church, the Spouse of Christ, for the needs of men, for their joys and hopes, their griefs and efforts, is therefore nothing other than her great desire to be present to them, in order to illuminate them with the light of Christ and to gather them all in Him, their only Savior. (Paul VI. Apostolic Letter Solemni hac liturgia, no. 68, Credo of the People of God, no. 27, June 30, 1968)

Sacred Scripture

The preferential option of Christ: proclaim the good news to the poor

Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” (Mt 11: 4-5)

John Paul II

The greatest good we can give the poor: the Gospel

And may this be the special mark of your ministry too: concern for the poor, for those who are materially or spiritually in need. Renee your pastoral love will embrace those in want, those afflicted, those in sin. And let us remember that the greatest good we can give them is the word of God. This does not mean that we do not assist them in their physical needs, but it does mean that they need something more, and that we have something more to give : the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (John Paul II. Address to the Phlippine Episcopate and Asian Bishops, no. 4, February 17, 1981)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The preoccupation with bread cannot postpone evangelization

The zeal and the compassion which should dwell in the hearts of all pastors nevertheless run the risk of being led astray and diverted to works which are just as damaging to man and his dignity as is the poverty which is being fought, if one is not sufficiently attentive to certain temptations. The feeling of anguish at the urgency of the problems cannot make us lose sight of what is essential nor forget the reply of Jesus to the Tempter: ‘It is not on bread alone that man lives, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4; cf. Deuteronomy 8:3). Faced with the urgency of sharing bread, some are tempted to put evangelization into parentheses, as it were, and postpone it until tomorrow: first the bread, then the Word of the Lord. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction on certain aspects f the “Theology of Liberation”, no VI, 2-3, August 6, 1984)

John Paul I

The Church’s pastoral charity would be incomplete if she did not point out ‘higher needs’

For us, evangelization involves an explicit teaching about the name of Jesus, his identity, his teaching, his Kingdom and his promises. And his chief promise is eternal life. Jesus truly has words that lead us to eternal life. Just recently at a general audience, we spoke to the faithful about eternal life. We are convinced that it is necessary for us to emphasize this element, in order to complete our message and to model our teaching on that of Jesus. From the days of the Gospel, and in imitation of the Lord, who ‘went about doing good’ (Act 10:38), the Church is irrevocably committed to contributing to the relief of physical misery and need. But her pastoral charity would be incomplete if she did not point out even ‘higher needs’. (John Paul I. Address to a group of Bishops from the Philippines on their ad limina visit, September 28, 1978)

Benedict XVI

The witness of charity must go together with the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel

The witness of charity, practiced here in a special way, is part of the Church’s mission, together with the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel. Human beings do not only need to be physically nourished or helped through moments of difficulty; they also need to know who they are and to understand the truth about themselves and their dignity. […] With her service for the poor the Church is committed to proclaiming to all the truth about man who is loved by God, created in his image, redeemed by Christ and called to eternal communion with him. A great many people have thus been able to rediscover and are still rediscovering their dignity, lost at times because of tragic events; they rediscover trust in themselves and hope in the future. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Hostel of the Diocesan Caritas of Rome, February 14, 2010)

Pius XII

The Church desires that all material redemptions have as their base a moral elevation

The Church is concerned and has always been concerned regarding the labor question, of the social question, offering above all those great principles, that have to be the only base of every true solution, and descending also, as much as possible, to those practical initiatives that are within its reach. The Church desires that those who work may live a truly human life, in order to be able to live a Christian life, without the excessive earthly preoccupations impeding them to gaze toward heaven; the Church proposes a more just distribution of natural goods, starting principally from the base of a just salary, that guarantees your present life and that of your family, opening the doors to savings that guarantee the future. But we desire to add once more that the Church desires that all of the material redemptions have as their base a former intellectual and moral elevation, for not from bread alone does man live (Deut. 8:3) and it is written: But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides (Mt 6:33). (Pius XII. Address to a pilgrimage of workers from Barcelona, October 25, 1954)

John Paul II

The duties toward the poor lies in their dignity as children of God

Within the Church, dear brothers and sisters, you experience in a special way the dignity of the children of God, which is the most noble and beautiful title to which a human being may aspire. Always maintain alive and functioning this dignity; in it lies the grandeur that the Church, Body of Christ, cares, teaches and promotes. No one furnishes so many reasons to love, respect and make respected the poor as the Church, which is the depository of the revealed truth with respect to man, image of God, redeemed by Christ. The announcing of the Good News of the kingdom gives reason for this happiness that today we share, despite the particular difficulties of your existence. […] It is in His [Jesus’] dignity as the Son of God that lies the roots of the rights of every man, whose guarantee is God himself. That is why the Church, obedient to the mandate received, urges the duties of solidarity, justice and charity for all, particularly toward those most in need. (John Paul II. Meeting with the inhabitants of the working class districts of Medellin, no. 2, July 5, 1986)

Paul VI

The option for the poor has as its purpose to raise them to a life in accordance with their dignity as Children of God

[The Church], with its option for the poor and its love for evangelical poverty, never wished to leave them in this state, but rather help them and raise them toward increasingly superior forms of life, more in accordance with their dignity as men and children of God. (Paul VI. Homily from the Canonization of John Macias, September 28, 1975)

Benedict XVI

To change unjust structures we must focus attention on eternal salvation

Yet changing unjust structures is not of itself sufficient to guarantee the happiness of the human person. Moreover, as I affirmed recently to the Bishops gathered in Aparecida, Brazil, the task of politics ‘is not the immediate competence of the Church’ (Address to the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 May 2007). Rather, her mission is to promote the integral development of the human person. For this reason, the great challenges facing the world at the present time, such as globalization, human rights abuses, unjust social structures, cannot be confronted and overcome unless attention is focused on the deepest needs of the human person: the promotion of human dignity, well-being and, in the final analysis, eternal salvation. (Benedict XVI. Address to the participants of the 18th General Assembly of Caritas Internationalis, June 8, 2007)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The Church is conscious that it is impossible to eliminate poverty completely from this world

Jesus says: ‘You always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me’ (Mt 26:11; cf. Mk 14:7; Jn 12:8). He makes this statement not to contrast the attention due to him with service of the poor. Christian realism, while appreciating on the one hand the praiseworthy efforts being made to defeat poverty, is cautious on the other hand regarding ideological positions and Messianistic beliefs that sustain the illusion that it is possible to eliminate the problem of poverty completely from this world. This will happen only upon Christ’s return, when he will be with us once more, for ever. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 183, May 26, 2006)

III – Should the Church be poor? In what manner?

John Paul II

Far from adding poverty to that of the poor, it is necessary to spread true richness

Saint Thomas comments: Jesus ‘defended material poverty to give us spiritual riches’ (S Th III, q. 40, a.3) All of those who, receiving his invitation, voluntarily follow the path of poverty, inaugurated by Him, are brought to spiritually enrich humanity. Far from simply adding their poverty to that of the other poor who live in the world, they are called to proportion true richness, which is of a spiritual order. As was written in the Apostolic Exhortation Redemptionis Donum, Christ ‘is not only the teacher but also the spokesman of that salvific poverty which corresponds to the infinite riches of God’ (no. 12). If we look to this Master, we learn from him the true meaning of evangelical poverty and the grandeur of the vocation to follow him by the way of the poverty. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 2-3, November 30, 1994)

Evangelical poverty is the subjection of all goods to the supreme Good of God

On the subject of evangelical poverty, the synod fathers gave a concise yet important description, presenting it as ‘the subjection of all goods to the supreme good of God and his kingdom’.(Proposition 8) In reality, only the person who contemplates and lives the mystery of God as the one and supreme good, as the true and definitive treasure, can understand and practice poverty, which is certainly not a matter of despising or rejecting material goods but of a loving and responsible use of these goods and at the same time an ability to renounce them with great interior freedom – that is, with reference to God and his plan. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, no. 30, March 25, 1992)


Jesus Christ and his Apostles had earthly possessions

Since among some learned men it often happens that doubt is again raised as to whether should be branded as heretical to affirm persistently that our Redeemer and Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles did not possess anything either in particular or even in common, even though there are different and adverse opinions on that question, we, in a desire to put an end to this controversy, declare on the advice of our brethren by this perpetual edict that a persistent assertion of this kind shall henceforth be branded as erroneous and heretical, since it expressly contradicts Sacred Scripture, which in many passages asserts that they did have some possessions; and since with regard to the aforementioned it openly submits that Sacred Scripture itself, by which surely the articles of orthodox faith are approved, contains a ferment of falsehood and consequently, in so far as in it lies, completely voiding the faith of Scripture it renders the Catholic faith, by destroying its approval, doubtful and uncertain. (Denzinger-Hünermann 930. John XXII. From the edict Cum inter nonnullos, November 12, 1323)


The Lord himself had money-boxes in forming his Church

Even though We praise and extol this wonderful virtue of poverty so much, no one should conclude that We have any intention of giving Our approval to the unbecoming indigence and misery in which the ministers of the Lord are sometimes forced to live, both in cities and in remote rural areas. In this regard, when St. Bede the Venerable explained and commented on the words of the Lord on detachment from earthly things, he excluded possible incorrect interpretations of this passage with these words: ‘You must not think that this command was given with the intention of having the saints keep no money at all for their own use or for that of the poor (for we read that the Lord himself… had money-boxes in forming his Church…) but rather the idea was that this should not be the motive for serving God nor should justice be abandoned out of fear of suffering want’ (In Luc. Evang. IV, c. 12). (John XXIII. Encyclical Sacerdotii nostri primordia, no. 1, August 1, 1959)

John Paul II

The Church has always claimed the right to possess and administer temporal goods

The Church has always claimed the right to possess and administer temporal goods. However, she does not ask for privileges in that area, but rather the possibility to use the means at her disposal for a threefold purpose: ‘to order divine worship; to provide decent support for the clergy and other ministers; to perform the works of the sacred apostolate and of charity, especially towards the needy’ (Code of Canon Law, can. 1254, §2). (Address to a delegation from the Croation Episcopal Conference and the Government of Croatia, December 15, 1998)

Benedict XVI

When the so-called paupers’ movement rose up against a rich and beautiful Church, the Mendicant Orders opposed them

Francis of Assisi and Dominic of Guzmán […] were able to read ‘the signs of the times’ intelligently, perceiving the challenges that the Church of their time would be obliged to face. A first challenge was the expansion of various groups and movements of the faithful who, in spite of being inspired by a legitimate desire for authentic Christian life often set themselves outside ecclesial communion. They were profoundly adverse to the rich and beautiful Church which had developed precisely with the flourishing of monasticism. In recent Catecheses I have reflected on the monastic community of Cluny, which had always attracted young people, therefore vital forces, as well as property and riches. Thus, at the first stage, logically, a Church developed whose wealth was in property and also in buildings. The idea that Christ came down to earth poor and that the true Church must be the very Church of the poor clashed with this Church. The desire for true Christian authenticity was thus in contrast to the reality of the empirical Church. These were the so-called paupers’ movements of the Middle Ages. They fiercely contested the way of life of the priests and monks of the time, accused of betraying the Gospel and of not practising poverty like the early Christians, and these movements countered the Bishops’ ministry with their own ‘parallel hierarchy’. Furthermore, to justify their decisions, they disseminated doctrine incompatible with the Catholic faith. For example, the Cathars’ or Albigensians’ movement re-proposed ancient heresies such as the debasement of and contempt for the material world the opposition to wealth soon became opposition to material reality as such, […] Both Franciscans and Dominicans, following in their Founders’ footsteps, showed on the contrary that it was possible to live evangelical poverty, the truth of the Gospel as such, without being separated from the Church. They showed that the Church remains the true, authentic home of the Gospel and of Scripture. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, January 13, 2010)

Pius X

The external pomp, by which authority in the Church is reverenced, is honor paid to Jesus Christ

Their [the modernists] general directions for the Church may be put in this way: Since the end of the Church is entirely spiritual, the religious authority should strip itself of all that external pomp which adorns it in the eyes of the public. And here they forget that while religion is essentially for the soul, it is not exclusively for the soul, and that the honor paid to authority is reflected back on Jesus Christ who instituted it. (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, no. 25, September 8, 1907)

John Paul II

The Church has feared no ‘extravagance’, devoting the best of resources to the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist

Reading the account of the institution of the Eucharist in the Synoptic Gospels, we are struck by the simplicity and the ‘solemnity’ with which Jesus, on the evening of the Last Supper, instituted this great sacrament. There is an episode which in some way serves as its prelude: the anointing at Bethany. A woman, whom John identifies as Mary the sister of Lazarus, pours a flask of costly ointment over Jesus’ head, which provokes from the disciples – and from Judas in particular (cf. Mt 26:8; Mk 14:4; Jn 12:4) – an indignant response, as if this act, in light of the needs of the poor, represented an intolerable ‘waste’. But Jesus’ own reaction is completely different. While in no way detracting from the duty of charity towards the needy, for whom the disciples must always show special care – ‘the poor you will always have with you’ (Mt 26, 11; Mk 14:7; cf. Jn 12:8) – he looks towards his imminent death and burial, and sees this act of anointing as an anticipation of the honor which his body will continue to merit even after his death, indissolubly bound as it is to the mystery of his person […] Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany, the Church has feared no ‘extravagance’, devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. (John Paul II. Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 47-48, April 17, 2003)

Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff

In the divine worship ‘noble simplicity’ must not be confused with ‘liturgical poverty’

Divine beauty manifests itself in an altogether particular way in the sacred liturgy, also through material things of which man, made of soul and body, has need to come to spiritual realities: the building of worship, the furnishings, the vestments, the images, the music, the dignity of the ceremonies themselves. Reread in this connection is the fifth chapter on ‘Decorum of the Liturgical Celebration’ in the encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucaristia’ – of Pope John Paul II (April 17, 2003), where he affirms that Christ himself wanted a fitting a decorous environment for the Last Supper, asking his disciples to prepare it in the house of a friend who had a ‘large upper room furnished’ (Luke 22:12; cf. Mark 14:15). […] The liturgy calls for the best of our possibilities, to glorify God the Creator and Redeemer. In the end, the care for the churches and the liturgy must be an expression of love for the Lord. Also in a place where the Church does not have great material resources, this duty cannot be neglected. […] However, the ‘noble simplicity’ of the Roman Rite must not be confused with a misunderstood ‘liturgical poverty’ and an intellectualism that can lead to the ruin of solemnity, foundation of divine worship. (Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. The Noble Simplicity of Liturgica Vestments, November 17, 2010)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

To serve the dignity of worship: all things should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, as symbols of the supernatural world

Holy Mother Church has therefore always been the friend of the fine arts and has ever sought their noble help, with the special aim that all things set apart for use in divine worship should be truly worthy, becoming, and beautiful, signs and symbols of the supernatural world, […]The Church has been particularly careful to see that sacred furnishings should worthily and beautifully serve the dignity of worship. (Vatican Council II. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 122, December 4, 1963)

Saint Francis of Assisi

All that pertains to the Holy Sacrifice must be precious

I entreat you more than if it were a question of myself that, when it is becoming and it may seem to be expedient, you humbly beseech the clerics to venerate above all the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Name and written words which sanctify the body. They ought to hold as precious the chalices, corporals, ornaments of the altar, and all that pertain to the Sacrifice. And if the most holy Body of the Lord be lodged very poorly in any place, let It according to the command of the Church be placed by them and left in a precious place. (Saint Francis of Assisi, Letter to all the Custodes, I, nos. 2-4)


However all those who minister such holy mysteries, should consider within themselves, most of all those who minister illicitly, how vile are the chalices, corporals, and altar linens, where the His very Body and Blood are sacrificed. And by many in vile places He is placed and abandoned, borne about in a wretched manner and consumed unworthily and ministered to others indiscretely. […] Is not our piety stirred concerning all these things, when the pious Lord Himself offers Himself into our hands and we handle Him and consume Him each day with our mouth? Or are we ignorant that we must (one day) fall into His Hand? Therefore let us correct quickly all these things and the others; and wherever the Most Holy Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ has been illicitly placed and abandoned, let Him be removed from that place and let them be placed in an honorable place. (Saint Francis of Assisi. Letter to the Clergy II, nos. 4-5, 8-11)

Benedict XVI

Love does not calculate; Judas’ calculation is a disguise for egoistic lack of dedication

Mary of Bethany ‘took 300 grams [a pound] of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair’ (cf. 12: 3). Mary’s gesture is the expression of great faith and love for the Lord; it is not enough for her to wash the Teacher’s feet with water; she sprinkles on them a great quantity of the precious perfume which as Judas protested it would have been possible to sell for 300 denarii. She did not anoint his head, as was the custom, but his feet: Mary offers Jesus the most precious thing she has and with a gesture of deep devotion. Love does not calculate, does not measure, does not worry about expense, does not set up barriers but can give joyfully; it seeks only the good of the other, surmounts meanness, pettiness, resentment and the narrow-mindedness that human beings sometimes harbour in their hearts. […] Mary’s action is in contrast to the attitude and words of Judas who, under the pretext of the aid to be given to the poor, conceals the selfishness and falsehood of a person closed into himself, shackled by the greed for possession and who does not let the good fragrance of divine love envelop him. Judas calculates what one cannot calculate, he enters with a mean mindset the space which is one of love, of giving, of total dedication. And Jesus, who had remained silent until that moment, intervenes defending Mary’s gesture: ‘Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial’ (Jn 12: 7). (Benedict XVI. Homily, for the Fifth anniversary of the death of John Paul II, March 29, 2010)


Pomp and splendor of ceremonies: is to be solicitous for the salvation of one’s neighbor

The Scriptures teach us that it is the duty of all to be solicitous for the salvation of one’s neighbor, according to the power and position of each. […] those who belong to the clergy should do this by an enlightened fulfillment of their preaching ministry, by the pomp and splendor of ceremonies. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, January 22, 1899)

Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff

The Church will attract men, rich or poor, by putting on the royal mantle of true beauty

And again, what is the purpose of the beauty of vestments and sacred vessels, if the poor man dies of hunger or does not have what it takes to cover his nakedness? Does that beauty not subtract from the resources to care for the needy? […] At present we are in need not so much of simplifying and pruning, but of rediscovering the decorum and majesty of divine worship. The sacred liturgy of the Church will attract those of our time not by wearing more of the everyday gray and anonymous clothing, of which he is already very accustomed, but by putting on the royal mantle of true beauty. The liturgy of today needs ever new and young clothing, which will make it perceived as a window open to heaven, as point of contact with the One and Triune God, to whose adoration it is ordered, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, High and Eternal Priest. (Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. Beauty and the Liturgical Rite, November 3, 2010)

IV – The saints, rich or poor, are the true evangelizers in the Church

John Paul II

The Church is universal, not of only one class

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’. The ‘rich’ are also ‘poor in spirit’ when, in proportion to their own riches, they do not fail to ‘give of themselves’ and to ‘serve the others’. In this way, then, the Church of the poor speaks in the first place and above all to man. To each man and, therefore, to all men. It is the universal Church. The Church of the mystery of the Incarnation. It is not the Church of one class or only one caste. And it speaks in the name of truth itself. (John Paul II. Address during the visit to the favela Vidigal in Rio de Janeiro, no. 4-5, July 2, 1980)

Benedict XVI

Evangelization is the proclamation of Jesus as the one Saviour – without a reductive sociological understanding

The more ardent the love for the Eucharist in the hearts of the Christian people, the more clearly will they recognize the goal of all mission: to bring Christ to others. Not just a theory or a way of life inspired by Christ, but the gift of his very person. Anyone who has not shared the truth of love with his brothers and sisters has not yet given enough. The Eucharist, as the sacrament of our salvation, inevitably reminds us of the unicity of Christ and the salvation that he won for us by his blood. The mystery of the Eucharist, believed in and celebrated, demands a constant catechesis on the need for all to engage in a missionary effort centred on the proclamation of Jesus as the one Saviour. This will help to avoid a reductive and purely sociological understanding of the vital work of human promotion present in every authentic process of evangelization. (Benedict XVI. Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, no. 86, February 22, 2007)

John Paul II

Holiness of life is what makes a Christian a fruitful evangelizer

Since they are members of the Church by virtue of their Baptism, all Christians share responsibility for missionary activity. […] Missionary cooperation is rooted and lived, above all, in personal union with Christ. Only if we are united to him as the branches to the vine (cf. Jn 15:5) can we produce good fruit. Through holiness of life every Christian can become a fruitful part of the Church’s mission. The Second Vatican Council invited all ‘to a profound interior renewal, so that having a lively awareness of their personal responsibility for the spreading of the Gospel, they may play their part in missionary work among the nations.’ (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris missio, no. 77, December 7, 1990)

Holiness is a fundamental condition for the mission of salvation of the Church

The vocation to holiness is intimately connected to mission […] Holiness, then, must be called a fundamental presupposition and an irreplaceable condition for everyone in fulfilling the mission of salvation within the Church. The Church’s holiness is the hidden source and the infallible measure of the works of the apostolate and of the missionary effort. Only in the measure that the Church, Christ’s Spouse, is loved by him and she, in turn, loves him, does she become a mother fruitful in the Spirit. (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, no. 17, December 30, 1988)

Paul VI

The first means of evangelization: an authentically Christian life

It is appropriate first of all to emphasize the following point: for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Christian life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. […]St. Peter expressed this well when he held up the example of a reverent and chaste life that wins over even without a word those who refuse to obey the word. It is therefore primarily by her conduct and by her life that the Church will evangelize the world, in other words, by her living witness of fidelity to the Lord Jesus […] in short, the witness of sanctity. (Paul VI. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 41, December 8, 1975)

Benedict XV

To enter upon the apostolic life: one must despise sin and practice the virtues

But for the man who enters upon the apostolic life there is one attribute that is indispensable. It is of the most critical importance, as We have mentioned before, that he have sanctity of life. For the man who preaches God must himself be a man of God. The man who urges others to despise sin must despise it himself. […] Let him be humble and obedient and chaste. And especially let him be a devout man, dedicated to prayer and constant union with God, a man who goes before the Divine Majesty and fervently pleads the cause of souls. For as he binds himself more and more closely to God, he will receive the grace and assistance of God to a greater and greater degree. (Benedict XV. Apostolic Letter Maximum illud, no. 26, November 30, 1919)

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