BUENOS AIRES When Pope Francis decided after the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, to set November 17 as the World Day of the Poor, he wanted to bring to the attention of both Catholics and public opinion worldwide, the new role played by the 'excluded' in our globalized and distracted societies.

In his message The Hope of the Poor Will Never be Frustrated, the Pope wishes to underline as on other occasions, the enormous inequality that exists in our world, with a growing breach between the rich and the poor who evidently suffer the worst of its consequences.

The Supreme Pontiff states in his message: "The economic crisis has not prevented large groups of people from accumulating fortunes that often appear all the more incongruous when, in the streets of our cities, we daily encounter great numbers of the poor who lack the bare necessities of life and are at times harassed and exploited."

They are seen as a threat or simply useless, simply because they are poor.

But the Pontiff also explicitly comments on the merciless judgment brought on the poor as the "parasites on society." He declares that "the poor are not even forgiven for their poverty. Judgment is always around the corner. They are not allowed to be timid or discouraged; they are seen as a threat or simply useless, simply because they are poor." The message considers the inhuman conditions in which the poor seek the dignity of work, when possible. "They labor in unsafe and inhumane conditions that prevent them from feeling on a par with others. They lack unemployment compensation, benefits, or even provision for sickness," the Pontiff stated.

Very often the poor are the object of sociological studies, trophies to show to politicians, invisible to most of society and almost never considered as individuals with personal histories. Pope Francis points out that the task at hand is not to help them but present them with "gratuitous love that seeks no reward."

Within this perspective, he invites us all to change our mentality. The poor can guide us to lead a more austere life, less consumerist, where the things that matter are not those we hold as possessions, but human relations.

Pope Francis visits a favela in Brazil in 2013 — Photo: Agencia Brasil

Thus, perhaps as a great paradox, they can help us to live more openly and generously, and "to discover their inner goodness, paying heed to their background and their way of expressing themselves, and in this way to initiate a true fraternal dialogue."

He invites us all to change our mentality.

The poor have their dignity and society tends to forget this. The Pope clarifies that "the poor are not statistics to cite when boasting of our works and projects. The poor are persons to be encountered." For the Catholic faithful, they are a veritable treasure that "saves us, because they allow us to see the face of Jesus Christ."

*Gallo is a member of the Sant'Egidio Community and Director of the Pontifical Chair at the Catholic University of Buenos Aires.

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