Pope says communists stole Christianity's concern for poor

In a new interview about moral and material poverty, Pope Francis has stressed that care for the poor is ultimately Christian, suggesting that communists have “stolen” this from Christianity.

Jul 01, 2014

Pope Francis greets pilgrims in Saint Peter's Square during his general audience on April 16, 2014. Credit: Kyle Burkhart/CNA.

VATICAN CITY: In a new interview about moral and material poverty, Pope Francis has stressed that care for the poor is ultimately Christian, suggesting that communists have “stolen” this from Christianity.

“I must say that communists have stolen our flag. The flag of the poor is Christian,” he said.

“Poverty is the center of the Gospel. The poor are at the center of the Gospel. Let’s take a look at Matthew 25, the protocol through which we will be finally judged: I was hungry, I was thirsty, I have been imprisoned, I was sick, naked…Let's take a look at the Beatitudes, another flag.”

“Communists say that all of this is communist. Yes, 20 centuries after… So, when they speak, we could respond them: you are Christians,” the Pope told the Roman daily Il Messaggero June 24.

Pope Francis' comments responded to the accusation that he is close to communist ideas. His comment comes in the fourth interview that he has granted to a newspaper. The interview was published June 29, on the occasion of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, patrons of the city of Rome.

Pope Francis underscored his fears of both moral and material poverty, condemning political corruption and encouraging lawmakers to govern their country well.

“Always safeguarding the common good: this is the vocation for any lawmaker. It is a broad issue, which includes, for instance, the safeguarding of human life (and) its dignity.”

According to the Pope, “the real problem is that policies have been undervalued, ruined by corruption, by kickbacks.”

Pope Francis recapped two recent homilies on the topic of corruption. These homilies responded to the mid-June daily Mass readings from the Old Testament Book of Kings about Naboth’s Vineyard.

Naboth possessed a vineyard that King Ahab wanted to acquire, but he refused to sell it to the king. The king’s wife Jezebel plotted to kill Naboth through a sham trial, and then sent Ahab to take possession of the vineyard. While the king was in Naboth’s vineyard, the prophet Elijah went to visit and condemn him.

Pope Francis explained that his homilies examined “the phenomenon of corruption.”

“I spoke about the end of corrupt people,” he told Il Messaggero. “Anyway, a corrupt person has no friends, he only has accomplices.”

In Pope Francis view, “corruption is a world issue.”

“I came to conclude that many evils are an outcome of the change of an era,” he added. “We are living not an era of changes, but the change of an era.”

These changing times “feed moral decay, not only in politics, but also in social or financial life.”

Asked whether he is more fearful of the material or the moral poverty of a city, Pope Francis said that he is fearful of both.

“For instance, I can help a hungry person not to be hungry anymore, but if he has lost his job and he cannot find a new one, this is another kind of poverty.”

“He is not dignified anymore,” the pontiff continued. “He can maybe go to (the relief agency) Caritas and bring back home a pack of food, but he is experiencing a very grave poverty, which ruins his heart.”

“An auxiliary bishop of Rome told me of many people who go to Caritas and secretly bring back food,” the Pope said. “Their dignity is progressively impoverished, they live in a state of humiliation.”

Pope Francis also stressed that the Gospel cannot be understood “without understanding real poverty, taking into account that there is also a beautiful poverty of spirit, i.e. being poor in front of God, because God fills you.”

Pope Francis remarked that the Gospel speaks about poverty and wealth.

“It is not condemning riches, if anything (it condemns) riches when they become idolized objects: the god of money, the golden calf…”

Pope Francis also remarked upon the missionary drive of the Church.

“The Church must be in the streets: search for people, go to the houses, visit families, go to the peripheries. It must be not only a Church receiving, but offering.”

Pope Francis emphasized “we are in a moment of mission.”

The Pope is attentively looking towards Asia.

“I will go there twice in six months. In August, in Korea, to meet the young Asians. In January, in Sri Lanka and Philippines,” he said. “The Church in Asia is a promise.”

“Korea represents much, it has a wonderful story. There had not been priests there for two centuries and Catholicism was spread thanks to laymen.”

Asked about China, Pope Francis called the country “a huge cultural challenge.” However, he cited “Matteo Ricci’s example,” referring to the Jesuit missionary who evangelized China in 17th century.

Ricci “did very well,” the Pope said.

Asked where Pope Francis’ Church is going, the Pope responded: “Thank God, I have no Church, I follow Christ. I have not founded anything. I had not changed my style that much since I was in Buenos Aires. Yes, somewhat, because it is needed, but changing my age would have been ridiculous.”

Speaking about his papacy’s program, the pontiff said that he is following “what cardinals have asked during the General Congregations before the Conclave.

He noted that the Council of the Cardinals, an eight-member external body advising the Pope, is “an outcome of the pre-conclave meetings,” Pope Francis noted.

“It had been requested because it would help to reform the Curia,” he said, referring to the administration of the Vatican.

Reform of the Curia is not simple, Pope Francis explained, because “once a step is made, the need of doing this and this emerges, and if there was a dicastery before, after the discussion there are four.”

The Council of Cardinals will gather in Rome for their fifth meeting July 1-4.

On the day of St. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis also spoke about his relation with the city of Rome, which he admits he does not know.

“Just think that I saw the Sistine Chapel for the first time when I took part in the conclave that elected Benedict XVI in 2005. I have never been in the Vatican museums.”

“When I was cardinal, I was not used to coming here and visiting Rome so often. I know the Basilica of St. Mary Major, since I used to go there, (and) the Church of San Lorenzo outside the walls, where I went for confirmation when Father Giacomo Tantardini was there. And I know Piazza Navona, because I always stayed right behind there.”

Yet even if his family is originally from Piedmont in northern Italy, Pope Francis is “starting to feel Roman.” He underscored his willingness to “go and visit the territory, the parishes. I am discovering this city little by little.”

According to Pope Francis, Rome is “a beautiful, unique metropolis, with the problems of the big metropolis. A small town has an almost unique structure, while a metropolis encompasses seven or eight imaginary towns overlapped on multiple layers.”

Among the problems of Rome, the Pope underscored that of child prostitution.

Pope Francis said he is aware of the underage prostitutes that line up the city streets. He recounted his discovery that 12-year-old girls were working as prostitutes in Argentina during his years there as archbishop.

“This hurt me,” he said. “But even more so the sight of large cars pulling up driven by old men. They could have been their grandfathers. For me the people who do this to children are pedophiles,” he said.

“It also happens in Rome,” he lamented. “The Eternal City that ought to be a beacon in the world is a mirror of the moral degradation of society.”--CNA

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