113 – “It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ”

The Church has always faithfully exercised her mission of caring for those in need. The times have changed, but the same difficulties always present themselves with new aspects. Vice has always degraded human beings, earlier gambling and alcohol were key problems, today having lost none of their detrimental character, they have had to yield the first place to drugs… And an unending list of other vices plague us.

The Church has performed true marvels in its work in favor of the unfortunate, offering multiple opportunities for them to better their lives. But, above all, the Church has always been concerned about the most necessary element of human life: finding God and living according to his commandments. It is an edifying deed to accompany an elderly person, but leading someone from the darkness of error to live the life of grace deserves even greater admiration. This is what the Church has done with innumerable souls who have benefitted from its truly charitable works. Venerable Matt Talbot, an Irish alcoholic rescued from his vice, and Saint Bakhita, a poor African slave, liberated from the yoke of oppression, are both examples of this triumph. The Church not only liberated them from physical misery, but also from the worst of evils: the slavery of sin.

The works of mercy should always be oriented in accordance with this affirmation of Our Lord: ‘What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?’ Is this the care that Francis proposes in relation to most unfortunate? Does he seek to foment a ‘pastoral ministry’ that merely cares for people’s bodies, or does he seek a more profound transformation, the sanctification of souls?



Quote A

Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favour an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.
It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis. How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralysing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favour the recognition of others! (Apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, no. 209-210)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter in the various parts of our study

I – The Church never failed to show concern for all forms of poverty
II – For Christ to dwell in souls, the state of grace is indispensable
III – It is necessary to give dignity to those who suffer and not demean those evangelized
IV – The good of souls is the most important aspect of evangelizing activity

I – The Church never failed to show concern for all forms of poverty

John Paul II

The whole tradition of the Church bears witness of love for the poor

Here I would like to indicate one of them: the option or love of preference for the poor. This is an option, or a special form of primacy in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness. (John Paul II. Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 42, December 30, 1987)

For centuries the Church has cared for those in most need

The same Italian Episcopate also expressed concern that well-deserving works which, for centuries, under the impetus of Christian charity, have taken care of orphans, the blind, the deaf and dumb, the old and all kinds of needy persons, thanks to the generosity of donors and to the personal sacrifice, sometimes heroic, of religious women and men, and which by virtue of legislative provisions had to assume, in spite of themselves, the juridical figure of public Institutions of Welfare and Charity – with a certain guarantee, however, for the purposes for which they were instituted – may be suppressed or in any case not sufficiently and effectively guaranteed. (John Paul II. Address to Catholic Jurists, November 25, 1978)

Pius XII

Never did the Church lack missionaries who labored tirelessly to make brothers of the natives and the slaves

With the discovery of the New World, Christ’s priests were the tireless companions of the men who founded colonies in those far distant lands. It was these priests who made sure that these colonists would not desert Christian ways nor become proud because of the riches acquired in the new lands. These priests also wished to move forward suitably and readily as missionaries to teach the Gospel to the natives, who previously were entirely ignorant of the Divine Light. And they zealously proclaimed that the natives were to be treated as brothers by the colonists. We must also mention those apostles of the Church who labored for the relief and conversion of those Negroes who were barbarously deported from their own land and sold as slaves in American and European ports. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia nazarethana, August 1, 1952)

The universal and benevolent activity of the Church on behalf of migrants and exiles

These timely projects have seemed altogether worth noting here. Initiated by this Apostolic See, they were undertaken by the bishops with the eager co-operation of priests, members of religious communities and laymen. The names of these collaborators, although, for the most part, not recorded in history books, are nevertheless written in heaven. Again, these works have appeared worth recounting here, if only briefly, so that the universal and benevolent activity of the Church on behalf of migrants and exiles of every kind –to whom she has extended every possible aid: religious, moral and social–, might thus become better appreciated. Besides, it seemed that these things badly needed to be publicized, especially in our times, when the provident enterprises of Mother Church are so unjustly assailed by her enemies and scorned and overlooked, even in the very field of charity where she was first to break ground and often the only to continue its cultivation. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia nazarethana, August 1, 1952)


The Church has consistently provided aid for the needy

Thus, by degrees, came into existence the patrimony which the Church has guarded with religious care as the inheritance of the poor. Nay, in order to spare them the shame of begging, the Church has provided aid for the needy. The common Mother of rich and poor has aroused everywhere the heroism of charity, and has established congregations of religious and many other useful institutions for help and mercy, so that hardly any kind of suffering could exist which was not afforded relief. […] But no human expedients will ever make up for the devotedness and self sacrifice of Christian charity. Charity, as a virtue, pertains to the Church; for virtue it is not, unless it be drawn from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ; and whosoever turns his back on the Church cannot be near to Christ. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Rerum novarum, no. 30, May 15, 1891)

The Church dignifies the poor

Now, who would make bold to deny that the Church, by spreading the Gospel throughout the nations, has brought the light of truth amongst people utterly savage and steeped in foul superstition, and has quickened them alike to recognize the Divine Author of nature and duly to respect themselves? Further, who will deny that the Church has done away with the curse of slavery and restored men to the original dignity of their noble nature; and – by uplifting the standard of redemption in all quarters of the globe, by introducing, or shielding under her protection, the sciences and arts, by founding and taking into her keeping excellent charitable institutions which provide relief for ills of every kind – has throughout the world, in private or in public life, civilized the human race, freed it from degradation, and with all care trained it to a way of Living such as befits the dignity and the hopes of man? (Leo XIII. Encyclical Inscrutabili Dei consilio, no. 5, April 21, 1878)

Gregory XVI

The Church even benefited those in distant lands

We are thankful for the success of apostolic missions in America, the Indies, and other faithless lands. The indefatigable zeal of many apostolic men has led them abroad into those places. Relying not on wealth nor on any army, they are protected by the shield of faith alone. They fearlessly fight the Lord’s battles against heresy […] They are inspired with a burning love and undeterred by rough roads and heavy toil. They search out those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to summon them to the light and life of the Catholic Religion. So, fearless in the face of every danger, they bravely enter the woods and caves of savages, gradually pacify them by Christian kindness, and prepare them for true faith and real virtue. At length they snatch them from the devil’s rule, by the bath of regeneration and promote them to the freedom of God’s adopted sons. (Gregory XVI. Encyclical Probe nostis, no. 6, September 18, 1840)

II – For Christ to dwell in souls, the state of grace is indispensable

Sacred Scripture

In order to be clothed with Christ, one must be baptized

For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Gal 3:26 – 27)

Saint Augustine of Hippo

The members of the Church: we are made not only Christians, but Christ

Let us rejoice, then, and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but Christ. Do ye understand, brethren, and apprehend the grace of God upon us? Marvel, be glad, we are made Christ. For if He is the head, we are the members: the whole man is He and we. […] ‘Until we all come together into the unity of faith, and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to the perfect man, to the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:14). The fullness of Christ, then, is head and members. Head and members, what is that? Christ and the Church. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Tractates on the Gospel of John, Tractate 21, no. 8)

God does not inhabit in all men

But what causes great amazement is the fact that God, although he is entirely in every place, does not inhabit in all men. In fact, my above-mentioned citation of the Apostle, or this one: ‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you’ (1Cor 3:16)? may not in fact be applied to all. That is why, on the other hand, the same Apostle said regarding others: ‘Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him’ (Rom 8:9). Furthermore, who would dare to think, except one who is entirely ignorant of the indivisibility of the Trinity, that the Father and the Son can inhabit someone in whom in the Holy Spirit does not dwell? Or that the Holy Spirit may live in someone in whom Father and the Son do not? In this way, one must admit that God is in all places by the presence of the divinity, but not in all places by the grace with which He inhabits souls. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Epistle 187: Treatise on the presence of God, no. 16)

God does not inhabit all: sin makes one distant from Him

Well then, God who is in every place, does not, however, inhabit all; nor does He live in the same manner in all of those He inhabits. […] Then it must be said that those are far from Him, who due to sin have become totally different from Him; and that those are close to Him, who with a holy life receive His similitude, in the same way that one justly says that eyes are so much farther from the light of the earth, as they are blinder. (Saint Augustine. Epistle 187: Treatise on the presence of God, no. 17)

Saint John Chrysostom

Baptism makes us brothers of Christ…

But if they are His brethren, why does He call them ‘the least?’ Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother. (Saint John Chrysostom quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena aurea in Mt 25:31 – 45)

Benedict XVI

…but there are those who have totally destroyed their desire for truth

There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Spe salvi, no. 45, November 30, 2007)

III – It is necessary to give dignity to those who suffer, and not to demean the one who evangelizes

Pius XII

In the assistance of those in need, those higher up in the social structure have a greater responsibility

In the great personal and social solidarity, everyone must be ready to work, to sacrifice oneself, to devote oneself to the good of all. The difference lies not in the obligation itself, but in the manner of fulfilling it. Is it not true that those who have more time and more abundant means at their disposal should be more assiduous and more solicitous in their desire to serve? In speaking of means, We are not referring only nor primarily to wealth, but to all the gifts of intelligence, culture, education, knowledge, and leadership, which are gifts not granted to certain privileged individuals for their exclusive advantage or to create an irremediable inequality among brothers, but rather for the good of the whole social community. In all that involves serving one’s neighbor, society, the Church and God, you must always be the first. Therein lies your true rank of honor, your most noble preeminence. Generous adhesion to the precepts of Christian doctrine and the Christian life. These are the same for all, for there are not two truths, nor two laws; rich and poor, big and small, noble and humble, all are equally expected to submit their intellects through faith in the same dogma, their wills through obedience to the same morals. Divine justice, however, will be much more severe toward those who have received more, those who are better able to understand the sole doctrine and to put it into practice in everyday life, those who with their example and their authority can more easily direct others onto the road of justice and salvation, or else lose them on the fatal roads of unbelief and sin. (Pius XII. Address to the gentlemen and ladies of the patriciate and nobility, January 15, 1949)

The Church calls people to a higher culture and a better way of life

Another end remains to be achieved; and We desire that all should fully understand it. The Church from the beginning down to our own time has always followed this wise practice: let not the Gospel on being introduced into any new land destroy or extinguish whatever its people possess that is naturally good, just or beautiful. For the Church, when she calls people to a higher culture and a better way of life, under the inspiration of the Christian religion, does not act like one who recklessly cuts down and uproots a thriving forest. No, she grafts a good scion upon the wild stock that it may bear a crop of more delicious fruit. Although owing to Adam’s fall, human nature is tainted with original sin, yet it has in itself something that is naturally Christian; and this, if illumined by divine delight and nourished by God’s grace, can eventually be changed into true and supernatural virtue. (Pius XII. Encyclical Evangelii Praecones, no. 56 – 57, June 2, 1951)

The Pontiff demonstrates love for Negroes by inaugurating a seminary for them

This is the place to duly note the love that this same Pontiff demonstrated for Negroes scattered throughout the world. It is clearly evident from a letter to the Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word, April 5, 1923, in which he sent his best wishes for the seminary shortly to be inaugurated for Negro students. He described as most beneficial their plan to receive into the Society of the Divine Word those Negroes who seemed called to the religious life. Then, when these students had attained the priesthood, they might exercise the sacred ministry more effectively among their own peoples. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia nazarethana, August 1, 1952)

John Paul II

The Church forms consciences by revealing the grandeur of man created in God’s image and loved by him

The Church and her missionaries also promote development through schools, hospitals, printing presses, universities and experimental farms. But a people’s development does not derive primarily from money, material assistance or technological means, but from the formation of consciences and the gradual maturing of ways of thinking and patterns of behavior. Man is the principal agent of development, not money or technology. The Church forms consciences by revealing to peoples the God whom they seek and do not yet know, the grandeur of man created in God’s image and loved by him, the equality of all men and women as God’s sons and daughters, the mastery of man over nature created by God and placed at man’s service, and the obligation to work for the development of the whole person and of all mankind. (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris mission, no. 58, December 7, 1990)


The Church is preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children but does not neglect their temporal and earthly interests

Neither must it be supposed that the solicitude of the Church is so preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children as to neglect their temporal and earthly interests. Her desire is that the poor, for example, should rise above poverty and wretchedness, and better their condition in life; and for this she makes a strong endeavor. By the fact that she calls men to virtue and forms them to its practice she promotes this in no slight degree. Christian morality, when adequately and completely practiced, leads of itself to temporal prosperity, for it merits the blessing of that God who is the source of all blessings; (Leo XIII. Encyclical Rerum novarum, no. 28, May 15, 1891)


The Church is preoccupied with the spiritual concerns of her children but does not neglect their temporal and earthly interests

When, furthermore, we consider man’s personal dignity from the standpoint of divine revelation, inevitably our estimate of it is incomparably increased. Men have been ransomed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Grace has made them sons and friends of God, and heirs to eternal glory. (John XXIII. Encyclical Pacem in terries, no. 10, April 11, 1963)

IV – The good of souls is the most important aspect of evangelizing activity

Benedict XVI

It is not enough to care for the body, we must adorn the soul with the divine gifts acquired through Baptism

Through treatment, which includes medical, psychological and educational assistance, and through much prayer, manual work and discipline, many people – especially young people –have already succeeded in freeing themselves from alcohol and drug dependency, thereby recovering meaning in their lives. I wish to express my appreciation for this work, which has the charism of Saint Francis and the spirituality of the Focolare Movement as its spiritual foundation. Reintegration in society undoubtedly demonstrates the effectiveness of your initiative. Yet it is the conversions, the rediscovery of God and active participation in the life of the Church which attract even greater attention and which confirm the importance of your work. It is not enough to care for the body, we must adorn the soul with the most precious divine gifts acquired through Baptism. Let us thank God for all those who have set out along the path of renewed hope, with the help of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the celebration of the Eucharist. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Community of Fazenda da Esperança, no. 4, May 12, 2007)

The Church’s charitable activity is not just another form of social assistance

For this reason, it is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Deus caritas est, no. 31, December 25, 2005)

John Paul II

The best service we can offer to our brother is evangelization

In the Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, I stated that ‘the Church does not have technical solutions to offer for the problem of underdevelopment as such,’ but ‘offers her first contribution to the solution of the urgent problem of development when she proclaims the truth about Christ, about herself and about man, applying this truth to a concrete situation’ (Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30, 1987), 41: AAS 80 (1988), 570f). The Conference of Latin American Bishops at Puebla stated that ‘the best service we can offer to our brother is evangelization, which helps him to live and act as a son of God, sets him free from injustices and assists his overall development’ (Documents of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Puebla (1979), 3760 (1145)). It is not the Church’s mission to work directly on the economic. technical or political levels, or to contribute materially to development. Rather, her mission consists essentially in offering people an opportunity not to ‘have more’ but to ‘be more’, by awakening their consciences through the Gospel. ‘Authentic human development must be rooted in an ever deeper evangelization’ (Address to Clergy and Religious, Jakarta, October 10, 1989, 5: L’Osservatore Romano, October 11, 1989). (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris missio, no. 58, December 7,1990)


Do not forget the neediest and the most contagious sick: sinners

You endeavor to alleviate the physical sufferings, but, we well know, you do not forget that, unfortunately, marginal to your activity are the neediest and the most contagious sick, who are the obstinate and rebellious sinners. […] The confusion that reigns in some sectors on this point demands the effort of all Christian souls of good sense to be inexorable and resolute in a patient and difficult exercise of true charity, and to not neglect an occasion to enlighten, call upon, correct and lift up. To play with fire is always harmful: et qui amat periculum in illo peribit (Sir 3:26). (John XXIII. Address to the delegates of the ‘Works of Mercy’ in Rome, February 21, 1960)

Pius XII

Pastoral attention so that immigrants may overcome hardships and validly receive the sacraments

Because of the hardships and the circumstances of the places in which they found themselves, some people, after emigrating from Europe to distant lands, were contracting marriage without the canonical formalities and even resorted to attempted marriage. Since such formalities were designed to prevent certain highly undesirable evils, the Pontiff was anxious that they be fully observed. When he learned of their neglect, he directed the Congregation of Sacraments to issue instructions concerning proof of freedom to marry and, likewise, the notification of the contracted marriage. These instructions were issued again, by the same Congregation a few years later and afterwards even these were supplemented by prudent rules for the benefit of migrants contracting marriage by proxy. (Pius XII. Apostolic constitution Exsul familia nazarethana, August 1, 1952)

Pius X

The primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas

The same applies to the notion of fraternity which they found on the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity, thus embracing with an equal love and tolerance all human beings and their miseries, whether these are intellectual, moral, or physical and temporal. But Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in the theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being. Catholic doctrine further tells us that love for our neighbor flows from our love for God, Who is Father to all, and goal of the whole human family; and in Jesus Christ whose members we are, to the point that in doing good to others we are doing good to Jesus Christ Himself. Any other kind of love is sheer illusion, sterile and fleeting. […] No, Venerable Brethren, there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity. Through the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ Our Saviour, Christian charity embraces all men, comforts all, and leads all to the same faith and same heavenly happiness. (Pius X. Encyclical Notre charge apostolique, no. 22-23, August 15, 1910)

Pius IX

Real charity: to snatch people from the darkness of error and lead them back to Catholic truth

God forbid that the children of the Catholic Church should even in any way be unfriendly to those who are not at all united to us by the same bonds of faith and love. […] they should especially endeavor to snatch them from the darkness of error in which they unhappily lie, and lead them back to Catholic truth and to the most loving Mother the Church, who never ceases to stretch out her maternal hands lovingly to them, and to call them back to her bosom so that, […] they may gain eternal salvation. (Denzinger-Hünermann 2867. Pius IX. Encyclical Quanto conficiamur moerore, August 10, 1863)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

A fatal error: the temptation to postpone evangelization giving preference to sharing bread

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’ (Mt 4:4; cf., Deut 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. It is a fatal error to separate these two and even worse to oppose the one to the other. In fact, the Christian perspective naturally shows they have a great deal to do with one another. To some it even seems that the necessary struggle for human justice and freedom in the economic and political sense constitutes the whole essence of salvation. For them, the Gospel is reduced to a purely earthly gospel. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction on certain aspects of the ‘Theology of Liberation’, no. VI, 3 – 4, August 6, 1984)

Jesus wished to call the excluded to conversion

But he [Jesus] also wished to be near to those who, though rich in the goods of this world, were excluded from the community as ‘publicans and sinners’, for he had come to call them to conversion (Mk 2, 13 – 17; Lk 19, 1 – 10). It is this sort of poverty, made up of detachment, trust in God, sobriety and a readiness to share, that Jesus declared blessed. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction on Christian freedom and liberation, no. 66, March 22, 1986)

Saint Francis de Sales

The Apostles preferred to feed souls with the Bread of Life than to minister to the material wants of the poor

And the Apostles, whose mission it was to preach the Gospel, and feed souls with the Bread of Life, judged well that it was not right for them to hinder this holy work in order to minister to the material wants of the poor, weighty as that work was also. Every calling stands in special need of some special virtue; those required of a prelate, a prince, or a soldier, are quite different; so are those beseeming a wife or a widow, and although all should possess every virtue, yet all are not called upon to exercise them equally, but each should cultivate chiefly those which are important to the manner of life to which he is called. (Saint Francis de Sales. Introduction to the devout life, Part III, Ch. 1)

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