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“The hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” This is a passage from Psalm 9:19, - the title of the Third World Day of the Poor which was celebrated on 17 November 2019.

Pope Francis set this World Day in 2017 and he explained the purpose of this day as follows: “At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, I wanted to offer the Church a World Day of the Poor, so that throughout the world Christian communities can become an ever greater sign of Christ’s charity for the least and those most in need.

To the World Days instituted by my Predecessors, which are already a tradition in the life of our communities, I wish to add this one, which adds to them an exquisitely evangelical fullness, that is, Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.” (Message of his Holiness Pope Francis First World Day of the Poor, No.6) As SVD, we would like to take this opportunity to reflect how our lives and mission witness Jesus’ preferential love for the poor.

The Word of God tells that we need the poor

The 18th General Chapter invites us to rediscover our “spiritual foundations that nourish and sustain our life and mission” (18 GC no.3). The Word of God is a concrete sign of the love of Father, and the incarnate Word witnessed this love through his life and sacrifice.  The love of Christ impels us for renewal and transformation of our life and mission, and it is impossible to do so if we are far from the people, especially the poor. Pope Francis says this in his Message for the Third World Day of the Poor (Here after “the Message”).

““Blessed are you who are poor” (Lk 6:20) The meaning of this paradoxical message is that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor because they are in a position to receive it.” (the Message no.5) “The poor save us because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.” “In the eyes of the world, it seems illogical to think that poverty and need can possess saving power. Looking at things from a human standpoint, we fail to see this saving power, but with the eyes of faith, we see it at work and experience it personally.” (the Message no.9) Yes, with the eyes of faith we believe that the poor are loved by God and invited to the kingdom of God as the “first” ones.

The Founding Generation

Fr. Arnold Janssen was very active to reach out to the poor. “Fr. Arnold made it a point that in all our houses the poor should be cared for. At Steyl and St. Gabriel this was done on a large scale. In Rome he ordered that two women be given a loaf of bread several times a week and this was done for years. Other poor people also called at the entrance every day.” (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation and Our Founding Generation, P. 43) In the 1891 SVD Constitutions we read: “All must work zealously with all their strength for the salvation of souls, because no task is so exalted and sublime, so important and all-encompassing than the salvation of souls.”

What work is so all-inclusive that it embraces all the works of mercy? Through the conversion of sinners you give food to the hungry, shelter to wanderers, clothes to the naked, you impart health to the sick, freedom to prisoners, and life to the dead.”  It is so important to know that our Founding Generation already recognized the works for the salvation of souls and mercy are inter-connected with each other. To keep this tradition alive, we need to reflect on our work constantly at our communities, parishes, schools and any working places.

Moved by the Gospel and the Founding Generation

Many confreres have been faithfully witnessing to Gospel values and the spirit of the Founding Generation in our time. This is done by hosting the street children and the refugees, visiting the sick and the prisoners, giving food and basic human needs to the poor and the victims of disasters. In Collegio del Verbo Divino in Rome we have been hosting refugees and migrants since 2016. Also we started a street outreach program this year. Every Thursday evening confreres prepare sandwiches and visit the people living in the street to be their friend and to support them by giving food and other basic needs.

To BE near to someone is different than to SEE or KNOW someone. We see so many poor people in our daily life, and we know what is causing such a situation. But when we encounter them, shake their hand and talk with them, listen to their struggles and joys, even celebrating their birthdays on a cold and windy street, we become convinced that God is with them. Our work is not just giving service to the poor. It gives us an opportunity to encounter God, and it leads us towards constant conversion to be faithful to the Gospel values.

Formation to be a missionary

Basically, the policy of Fr. Arnold for the service for the poor came from the “missionary formation” perspective. He believed that the SVD missionaries “should have at least some understanding of the needs of the poorest classes of our society.” (ibid, p. 42)  In these years, many PRMs started incorporating social experiences in their formation programs. Many formandi are sent to social service centers run by SVD, indigenous villages and refugee camps during their regency, pastoral year and OTP. Some Provinces send their formandi for disaster relief activities.

The objective of these programs is not just to learn certain skills to react to social problems, but more essentially to be convinced of the imperative value of accompanying poor people. Some formation houses even send formandi to the street not to give services, but to just meet, stay and talk with homeless people. We would like to encourage the formators to give opportunities to the formandi to meet with the poor and experience their reality.

Hope out of love

When we work with the poor, we give services such as giving food, shelter, clothes and blankets. We empower them through community building, education and vocational training. But if these services and projects are given without communion of love, our work misses the essence of our mission, the Gospel value. “Certainly, the poor come to us also because we give them food, but what they really need is more than our offer of a warm meal or a sandwich. The poor need our hands, to be lifted up; our hearts, to feel anew the warmth of affection; our presence, to overcome loneliness. In a word, they need love.” (the Message no.8)

So let us be the witnesses of the love of God. Hope will be given by God through the communion of love despite the desperate situation surrounding the poor. “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Rom 5:5)

By Father Superior General Paulus Budi Kleden and the Leadership Team

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota” – November 2019