Pope Francis visited the favela, or slum, of Varginha this morning, one of Rio de Janeiro’s poorest places. There, he reminded both the great of the world and the small of the world that when living the Christian life “solidarity with the poor is not optional.” The Pope said that those who have been blessed with great resources or wealth should “never tire” of working for solidarity and justice for the poor.
“The Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable,” the Holy Father declared, saying “I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity.”
One of the families who live in the favela, the Alves family, had the honor of formally greeting the Pope on his arrival and they had the opportunity of sharing not only their impressions of the papal visit, but they were able to share publicly what it has been like for them to live in one of the most neglected places in Brazil’s largest city and former capital. The Alveses said that the day would “live in our hearts forever.”
“Therefore, we would like to ask your permission to break a little bit ‘protocol,’ as Your Holiness does sometimes, and call you Father, Fr. Francis, who welcomes everyone and, especially, the most poor,” they said. The family relayed that their poor neighborhood suddenly received some much needed attention when it was announced that the Pope would be visiting. “Such neglect, our dear Father, has been left behind since the moment of the announcement of your visit to our community.” They said the Pontiff’s visit gave the area some infrastructure improvements and added, “we hope it will continue this way.”
The Pope thanked the residents of Varginha for giving him such a warm welcome. “When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them – some food, a place in our homes, our time – not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched,” Francis said.
And yet, the Holy Father said that all had a personal role to play in addressing the inequalities that perpetuate poverty in places like Varginha. “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so.”
“Let us always remember this: only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied! The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!”
The Pope also taught, however, that while “giving bread to the hungry” is a necessary act of justice, there is “there is a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy.” He said that if a nation ignores what he called its “fundamental pillars” that there is “neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development.” The Pope said that these fundamental pillars consist of life; the family; integral education; health; and security. The Pope said that life must be “protected and promoted” as “a gift from God.”
“To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished,” the Pope declared, “you are not alone, the Church is with you, the Pope is with you.”