By Carolyn Woo, Ph.D.
The first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate has been particularly meaningful for all of us at Catholic Relief Services. He has reminded us that the preferential option for the poor is a central mission of the Church, built on a foundation laid by Jesus in the Gospels.
As Francis has said, “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them.”
By his own actions – washing the feet of prisoners, visiting refugees from Africa on the island of Lampedusa – Francis has demonstrated that it is necessary to go beyond words to deeds. He did not ask if those in need were Christian. That did not matter. He saw their need and knew that we, as Catholics, must help them.
Pope Francis recognizes that Jesus’ command to his disciples in Mark 6:37 to feed the poor “means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter.” He encourages us not to be intimidated by the “messiness” of the situations we encounter as we reach out. We should let love lead.
Every day around the world, thousands of employees of CRS work to alleviate the burden of poverty, not just for an hour or for a day, but for a lifetime and for generations to come. Standing with the Catholic community of the United States, they understand, as Francis said, that, “True mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us, demands justice, it demands that the poor find the way to be poor no longer.”
Pope Francis has inspired our work in many ways. One is to remind us that the poor have “much to teach us” and that “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.”
At CRS, we know it is a privilege that we are allowed to embrace this mysterious wisdom and participate in God’s miracles every day as we strive to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of God’s family.
Carolyn Woo, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official humanitarian agency of the U.S. bishops.