Pope’s call to help poor poignant as Christmas approaches: clergy
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES Religion Reporter December 19, 2013 3:58PM
Fr. Marco A. Mercado, Archbishop’s Delegate for Hispanic Ministry and Rector of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, offers communion during the opening mass celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas in Des Plaines, on Wednesday, December 11, 2013. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2014 6:10AM
As Christmas approaches, Pope Francis’ recent statements calling for a greater focus on addressing poverty and the growing gap between rich and poor is resonating with local Catholic leaders.
“I think the Holy Father is shaking the whole system in a positive way,” said the Rev. Marco Mercado, rector of Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine in Des Plaines and the Archbishop’s delegate for Hispanic ministry. “We have to preach with example and to preach more about caring for the poor.
“Christmas is not about gifts, nice dinners, new cars. It’s about Jesus. When we talk about Jesus, it’s about my brothers and sisters, the ones that are in need. I think he’s trying to help us refocus on that.”
Catholic leaders here say his messages should prompt reflection and action by parish priests and those sitting in the pews this holiday season and throughout next year.
“Our understanding of the season of Advent brings about themes of this is a time of reflection of trying to understand what does it mean to have Christ in the world as we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ, and so then how does that change our lives,” said the Rev. David Jones, pastor of St. Benedict The African-East on the city’s South Side.
The pope is directing Catholics’ vision not to material possessions “and all things flashy and attractive, but to the human person [who’s] sitting in the street begging for his next meal, that if we’re looking for Christ in the world, it’s in that person, not in possessions,” said the Rev. Mark Francis, president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
He said the message is relevant, particularly in the wake of reports a few weeks ago of black Friday crowds breaking down doors to get sale items.
“In the evening when we’re supposed to give thanks for what we have, we’re breaking down doors in order to get more,” he said. “There’s a certain inconsistency with that…The kind of values that [Pope Francis] speaks of … are values that we can live our lives with and that help reorient us.”
Mercado said in his sermons he’s trying to follow Pope Francis’ example, noting he’s preached recently on responsible stewardship, imparting to fellow Catholics, “You’re stewards in your family. You have to teach the little kids, do you really need a 16-inch TV or do we need to help Uncle John because he’s out of a job right now. Christmas is about giving, but not just giving gifts, but in you deny yourself something you want for something that somebody else needs. That’s the big difference.”
Pope Francis is recasting an old message, said Jones, but “he’s being heard.”
The message is what Catholic social teaching is all about, contended Catholic Theological Union’s Rev. Francis.
“It puts the person ahead of possessions or material goods and strives to proclaim a society that is more open to all and freer and provides dignity for everyone,” he said.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina on the South Side, contends Pope Francis is elevating the issues.
“He’s turning the spotlight of the Catholic church on issues that I think the Catholic Church has seemed to have had laryngitis about — that’s poverty, injustice,” Pfleger said. “To me it’s the basic issues of the gospel.
“I believe that the church is supposed to be the lobbyist for the poor. I think this institution we call church today has surrendered that position. I am so grateful that he is dealing with it, that I lived long enough to see this pope.”
Pfleger said he hopes Catholics will ask themselves, “Have we fallen into the culture of the world that is materialism?
“Lazarus didn’t go to hell for anything he did; he went to hell for doing nothing,” he added, citing the character from the Bible.
“Hopefully, it will be a wake-up call ... In this season of Advent and Christmas as we celebrate Jesus, I hope that the pope’s remarks will help us remember what [Jesus] came and said, from the leaders in the Catholic church down to the persons in the pew.”