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from issue no. 10 - 2004

The rich are lost because of their blindness towards the poor

«The danger for Europe is that it looks at the tragedy of the poor with the mentality of the rich, while the Church approaches them with the heart of the poor». The sermon by the President emeritus of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace during the mass closing the Social Weeks in France on 26 September 2004

by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray

The rich man and poor Lazarus, gospel book of the emperor Otto III, repository of the Cathedral of Aachen

The rich man and poor Lazarus, gospel book of the emperor Otto III, repository of the Cathedral of Aachen

We are gathered here for the Day of the Lord, the day in the world program of every Christian, “child of the Resurrection”.
Here we are around the communion table, the table that inspires and moves more than all tables, because it brings together new men of the new morn of Easter for a world that has to be continually invented. We are at the good school of André Boissard, Marius Gonin, Eugène Duthoit and of so many others that the Easter faith launched into the venture of the Social Weeks of France, a hundred years ago. We are here indeed all new to the belief that our Europe, called the “Old World”, can have a spurt of youth, thanks to the leaven of which the Gospel has the secret.
This mass is «for Europe». The last act of our days casts us all into the hands of God. Europe cannot forget, among its roots, its Christian roots. But what are the best roots worth if they no longer deliver sap? And how can there be sap separated from the roots that gave it strength and color?
The Europe that is taking shape is much more than a treasure to be dug up, than an inheritance to defend! In the impermanence of his institutions, it joins in the creating design of God so that mankind, made in his image, may be the soul of the world, the total man whose religious dimension integrates the others into a living unity.
It is a matter of making Europe into a dwelling worthy of man. It is not so much a matter of seeking where to build the walls of Europe, it is mankind itself, today, that is surrounded by walls; and we must help it dwell in a Europe in which it can assume its real stature, thanks to the spiritual values through which mankind becomes fully such.
This morning we listened to the reactions and then the closures to the proposals formulated by the six forums that filled yesterday. I am happy to see many lay people come into the workshops where Europe is being built, the “Social Catholics”, as in tautological fashion they were called a hundred years ago. Priests and bishops you must all take light from the diversity of your analyses, and back each other through the complex network of your solidarity. It has been said that by putting a social encyclical into practice Christians are preparing the following one, so that nothing escapes, sooner or later, the maternal eye of the Church.
But how many know its social thinking, thinking too often mistaken for a matter of choice! Close to the very sources of the faith, this teaching speaks at times in the imperative, at times in the optative, never in the tense of choice. We need visible and steady points of reference, above all in a period as undecided and fluctuating as ours, in which the privatization of faith rapidly turns opposing ideas into wars of religion. The Social Weeks are more than ever called to play an important role as open and itinerant university within the reach of all, especially of young people, who have little appetite for a future that indeed has little attraction.
Of the six workshops you set up, I would like to speak about the one this Sunday’s Gospel suggests for our contemplation: the workshop of poverty, of openness and sharing. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man has accompanied me, tailed me, elbowed me wherever Pope John Paul II has sent me through the world. Let’s try to get a good grasp on the parable. We brand the rich man with the adjective «bad»; Christ says only «there was a rich man», that’s all: he wasn’t bad. We speak of «Lazarus the beggar», but Christ only says «a poor man covered in sores», that’s all; he wasn’t asking anything. The distance that separated them on earth was not so great, merely the threshold of a door; but the blindness or the simple forgetfulness of the rich man towards the poor man was enough to create between them the infinite distance between heaven and hell.
Peter healing the cripple, Matteo del Pollaiolo, 
marble bas-relief from the ciborium of Sixtus V, 
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Peter healing the cripple, Matteo del Pollaiolo, marble bas-relief from the ciborium of Sixtus V, Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

Of course, nothing more pressing than combating poverty, this open sore in the side of humanity. But where is it hiding and what poverty is at issue? Are not perhaps the “new poverties” that the societies of abundance produce a sign of their fragility?
The danger for Europe is that it looks at the tragedy of the poor with the mind-set of the rich, while the Church approaches it with a poor person’s heart. Out of this comes the gigantic mistaking of economic poverty for evangelical poverty. How to explain today that one can reconcile the poverty to combat with a poverty to embrace by following Saint Francis, the Poor man of Assisi? How to find place for the gratuitousness of an act of love in a mercantile civilization? The beatitude of poverty looks like a luxury or a mockery. Giving life back to its evangelical roots means for Europe to learn to look at the world like Jesus, from the top of the mountain of the Beatitudes and dare to proclaim: «Blessed are the poor!» Yes, blessed are those who refuse to bow down before the idols of money and power.
There is true sharing only in poverty. There are true riches only in sharing. Poverty, sharing, openness, the latter term of the three is a window, indeed, a great door out onto the world, onto all the continents beyond the seas. But here is a continent about which Europe thinks little, whereas it is the nearest, to the point of almost being part of it, even if it is culturally the most distant: Asia. Because at bottom Europe is no more than a small peninsula of the immense continent that stretches from Estremadura to the Far East, and we cannot forget it in our desire for universal solidarity. I met an elderly Chinese priest who as a young man came on foot from Shanghai to Paris to study…
Brothers and sisters, see how far a sermon on Europe can go!... as far as the People’s China! It’s time for me to stop. Or rather for all of us to enter immediately together into the mystery of the Eucharist that lies at the heart of our social responsibility. Modern humanity, often disappointed or betrayed by its own doings, expects much from the Church, more than it recognizes. Don’t expect her to teach humanity things that it can also learn without her, but that she tell it what only she can say, like Saint Peter, with calm daring: «Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, walk!» (Acts 3,6). Walk! The Eucharist simply offers us the meeting with the Risen One, he who hollows out and at the same time fills a hunger for justice stronger than that of mankind.
May this mass for Europe be an anticipation of the new Earth and of the new Heaven, a community glad to live fully a brotherhood of men and women reconciled by the death and resurrection of the Savior «for the glory of God and the salvation of the world».
Let us pray that Europe become a place ever more flourishing in human hope, in that hope that is child of God.

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