A Church for the Poor, A Call to Radical Love

As I boarded my flight to Atlanta, I began to reflect how I could get rest, catch up on reading, and allow that reflection to better serve our ministry to the community here in South St Petersburg and the Diocese of St Petersburg.   After having an inspiring weekend, it seemed the “Pact of The Catacombs” edited by Xabier Pikaza and Jose’ Atunes da Silva would serve as a good source of reflection.

Although this past week was truly disturbing as we saw again the horrors that result from hate and prejudice in our nation, I was inspired by the great outreach and opportunities to serve those on the peripheries.   From an encouraging dialogue to welcome immigrants and the Spanish speaking community to our parish, to the service of our neighborhood through sharing back to school supplies and clothing vouchers to reaching local teens and offering support and encouragement. This is what we are called to be as a Church for the Poor.

The Pact of the Catacombs must be an inspiration for the Church today as we boldly and radically proclaim and be a Church for the Poor! To walk with the Poor and those on the peripheries is to carry out the Gospel’s highest mission. Father General Heinz Kulüke, former Superior General of the Society of the Divine Word, states :” “The Pact of the Catacombs brings us in contact with the essentials of our faith, the simplicity of the Gospel” “The Pact is like a hidden gem that sees the light of day.” “As we celebrate the 50 years of the Pact, we need to make it flourish into new projects, new avenues of life and brotherhood, in lives committed to serving the poor, in policies that bring about justice and peace.”

I encourage you to read the actual “Pact” it is short but speaks boldly the direction the Church must embrace to not only be relevant in the world, but to be a transformative element for justice and the common good.   Many look down on poverty and the poor and boldly process “we’re not Poor!” But if we are not, we must become so! Listen to the spirit of the Vatican II Bishops “The mystical body of Christ must really be the Church of the poor, not only in desire but also in fact, not only in preaching but also in action, in the way its ministers behave and live: this is the mission of pastors. It is not only the liturgical ornaments and vestments that must better express the Gospel, but all the dress and behavior of the Church’s ministers, following the beautiful poverty of Jesus Christ.”   Unfortunately, many priests may be unaware of this radical call to simplicity, and the call to a clear preferential option for the poor. We must be willing to walk amongst the people, in the words of Pope Francis “smell like the sheep!”

Bishop Alfred Ansel “offered three principles for the evangelization of the poor – presence, hope and universal love.” The wealthy share in this evangelization by utilizing their wealth for the good of those who have none.   Simply loving those who do not have and thus identifying and embracing the poor. This sense of poverty is clearly represented in the Gospel and strongly reflected in the Vatican II documents.

“A similar call is made to the laity in the decree on their apostolate: Mercy to the poor and the sick, and charitable works and works of mutual aid for the alleviation of all kinds of human needs, are held in particular honor by the Church Priests, more deeply identified with Christ must live out and nourish their poverty of heart, and closely imitate even Christ’s outward poverty. For a priest there is an additional important pastoral reason: the priest, like every Christian and more so, is called to bear witness to the renewed quality of Christian life through his life even more than his words.”

Let us continue our reflection over the next few weeks as we listen and respond to the call to be a Church of and for the Poor by loving all those in need.

In the Divine Word

Stephan Brown, SVD


Excerpts From

The Pact of the Catacombs

Xabier Pikaza & José Antunes da Silva

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