Pope Francis, in Evangelii Gaudium, addresses “Concern for the vulnerable” in numbers 209 through 216. These eight sections, by the way, will wrap up his examination of “The Inclusion of the Poor in Society” (186-216) in the larger chapter (EG 176-258) covering the topic of “The Social Dimension of Evangelization.”
Road map checked, let’s read on:
209. Jesus, the evangelizer par excellence and the Gospel in person, identifies especially with the little ones (cf. Mt 25:40). This reminds us Christians that we are called to care for the vulnerable of the earth. But the current model, with its emphasis on success and self-reliance, does not appear to favor an investment in efforts to help the slow, the weak or the less talented to find opportunities in life.
The “current model” he’s speaking of is the way most cultures conduct themselves in the public sphere. This would include the insular nature of many of our neighborhoods, workplaces, and such. Granted, such assemblies of persons are not obliged to be Christian in their conduct and policy. But it’s important to situate our circumstances as believers in society. While we might decry variously, public schools, politics, corporations, and such, the real question is the degree which we cooperate with it. Perhaps we are unwilling accomplices. Perhaps we are exploited. Perhaps we author the exploitation.
The Holy Father elaborates a bit:
210. It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits. I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others. Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers, a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity, will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis. How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralyzing mistrust, integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favor the recognition of others!
What do I draw from this?
- We have to be prepared to look for the vulnerable; they will not knock at our doors. And new vulnerabilities will continue to surface in the years ahead.
- Pope Francis may style himself the Bishop of Rome, but clearly he sees a broader pastorate and accepts the call.
- Two important Ignatian qualities surface here: generosity and openness. These are essential constituents of the Spiritual Exercises that formed his life as a Jesuit. When we read it, we should be prepared to interpret such terms through the lens of the spirituality of Saint Ignatius. If we want to understand it more fully, that is.
- A new cultural synthesis–this is a new line of thought. Community planning: how often are such places designed in the US, and not only in suburbia, that feature closed-in realms, gates and protections, and no encouragement to exchange, even among peers? The movement of outdoor social space from the front door to the back deck is illustrative of a deeper alienation between neighbors in our nation.