Pope John Paul II on homelessness

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 13 Dec 1997 22:23:30 -0800 (PST)


FWD  "Developing Special Concern for the Homeless"

Pope John Paul II's Lent 1997 message for the first year of
preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. The season of Lent recalls the 40 years spent by Israel in the
desert while on its way to the Promised Land. During that time the
people experienced what it meant to live in tents, without a fixed
abode, totally lacking security. How often they were tempted to
return to Egypt where at least there was a supply of bread, even
though it was the food of slaves. In the insecurity of the desert,
God himself provided water and food for his people, protecting
them from every danger. For the Hebrews the experience of being
totally dependent on God thus became the path to freedom from
slavery and the idolatry of material things.

The Lenten season is meant to help believers, through a commitment
to personal purification, to relive this same spiritual journey by
becoming more aware of poverty and of life's uncertainties and by
rediscovering the providential presence of the Lord, who invites
us to open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters in
need. In this way Lent also becomes a season of solidarity with
individuals and peoples in so many parts of the world who find
themselves in very difficult situations.

2. For Lent 1997, the first year of preparation for the Great
Jubilee of the Year 2000, I would like to pause and reflect on the
tragic situation of the homeless. As a text for meditation I
suggest the following words taken from Matthew's Gospel: "Come, O
blessed of my Father, for I was homeless and you took me in" (cf.
25:34-35). The home is the place of family communion, where from
the love of husband and wife children are born and learn how to
live; in the home children learn those fundamental moral and
spiritual values which will make them the citizens and Christians
of tomorrow. In the home too, the elderly and the sick experience
an atmosphere of closeness and affection and support, also in
times of suffering and physical decline.

But how many people there are, unfortunately, who have been
uprooted from the atmosphere of human warmth and welcome typical
of the home! I think of refugees, victims of wars and natural
disasters, and those forced to migrate for economic reasons. I
also think of families evicted from their homes, those unable to
find housing and the many elderly people whose pensions do not
enable them to find a decent and affordable place to live. At
times these hardships lead to other tragedies such as alcoholism,
violence, prostitution and drug addiction. Last June, while the
World Conference on Human Settlements, Habitat II, was meeting in
Istanbul, I called attention to these serious problems at the
Sunday Angelus. I emphasized their great urgency and recalled once
again that the right to housing belongs not only to the individual
as such, but also to the family, made up of several individuals.
The family, as the basic cell of society, has a full right to
housing adequate to its needs so that it can develop a genuine
domestic communion. The church recognizes this fundamental right
and is aware of her obligation to work together with others in
order to ensure that it is recognized in practice.

3. Many passages in the Bible highlight the duty to help the
homeless.

In the Old Testament, the Torah teaches that strangers and the
homeless in general, inasmuch as they are exposed to all sorts of
dangers, deserve special concern from the believer. Indeed, God
clearly and repeatedly recommends hospitality and generosity
toward the stranger (cf. Dt. 24:17-18, 10:18-19; Nm. 15:15, etc.),
reminding Israel of how precarious its own existence had once
been. Later, Jesus identified himself with the homeless: "I was a
stranger and you welcomed me" (Mt. 25-35), and taught that charity
toward those in this situation will be rewarded in heaven. The
Lord's apostles urge the various communities which they had
founded to show hospitality to one another as a sign of communion
and the newness of their life in Christ.

It is from the love of God that Christians learn to help the needy
and to share with them their own material and spiritual goods.
Such concern not only provides those experiencing hardship with
material help but also represents an opportunity for the spiritual
growth of the giver, who finds in it an incentive to become
detached from worldly goods. But there is a higher motivation
which Christ indicated to us by his own example when he said: "The
Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Mt. 8:20). By these words
the Lord wished to show his total openness to his heavenly Father,
whose will he was determined to carry out without letting himself
be hindered by the possession of worldly goods. For there is
always a danger that earthly realities will take the place of God
in the human heart.

Lent is thus a providential opportunity for fostering the
spiritual detachment from riches necessary if we are to open
ourselves to God. As Christians, we must direct our entire lives
to him, for we know that in this world we have no fixed abode:
"Our commonwealth is in heaven" (Phlm. 3:20). At the end of Lent,
the celebration of the paschal mystery shows how the Lenten
journey of purification culminates in the free and loving gift of
self to the Father. It is by taking this path that Christ's
disciples learn how to rise above themselves and their selfish
interests in order to encounter in love their brothers and
sisters.

4. The Gospel call to be close to Christ who is "homeless" is an
invitation to all the baptized to examine their own lives, and to
treat their brothers and sisters with practical solidarity by
sharing their hardships. By openness and generosity, as a
community and as individuals, Christians can serve Christ present
in the poor and bear witness to the Father's love. In this journey
Christ goes before us. His presence is a source of strength and
encouragement: He sets us free and makes us witnesses of love.

Dear brothers and sisters! Let us fearlessly go up with Christ to
Jerusalem (cf. Lk. 18:31) and accept his invitation to conversion
so that we may cling more fervently to God, the holy and merciful
one, especially during the Lenten season of grace. I pray that
this Lent will enable all to hear the Lord's plea to open their
hearts to all those in need. Invoking Mary's heavenly protection
in a special way upon the homeless, I cordially impart my
apostolic blessing.

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