The following editorial appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was written by Joe Towalski, editor.
Just about every day on my way to work, I encounter the face of the poor.
It’s usually a different face each time at the top of the interstate exit ramp or on a corner along one of the streets on my “short cut” route back home. A man or woman stands there holding a sign asking for money — sometimes for food, sometimes in exchange for work.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but all too often, I look away. I wonder for a few seconds while the traffic light is red if I should open my wallet and offer a few dollars. Sometimes, I judge their appearance and wonder if they’ll really use the money for food.
Then the light turns green and I continue on my way to my warm house and a full plate of dinner.
It’s not what I should be doing as a Catholic, as a member of a church that promotes a preferential option for the poor. And, it’s certainly not what Pope Francis wants me — or anyone else who has been in my position — to do.
In his recent apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,” the pope said we must be “a church which is poor and for the poor.”
“We are called to find Christ in them, to lend our voices 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,” he wrote.
A few days later, I read an Associated Press story about the Vatican almoner — basically the pope’s chief almsgiver. A few times a week, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski hits the streets, offering money for essential needs, food from the Vatican mess halls and a listening ear.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio did something similar, according to the story, going out to eat and talk with the homeless.
“My job is to be an extension of the pope’s arm toward the poor, the needy, those who suffer,” Archbishop Krajewski was quoted as saying. “He cannot go out of the Vatican, so he has chosen a person who goes out to hug the people who suffer.”
Pope Francis offers an important reminder that caring for the poor involves more than writing a check to charity or donating canned goods to a food shelf.
While those are important and essential, they don’t replace reaching out to people in need with a hand of friendship, a listening ear and a commitment to work together with them to make changes in society — in government policies and institutional structures — that will help to alleviate both material and spiritual poverty.
We need to look more directly and more deeply into the faces of the poor that we encounter every day, avoiding every temptation to look away.
Pope Francis and Christ himself would demand no less of us. Even if we are sitting in traffic on a busy street corner.
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