Francis: Christians obligated to help those in need

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has poignantly said that Christians have no right to refuse help to those who need it, saying that to partake in the commemoration of Christ's death is to see him in the poor and suffering and to welcome them and offer help.

Speaking during his weekly Angelus address in St. Peter's Square Sunday, the pope reflected on the meaning of the Catholic feast day celebrated this week, that of Corpus Christi or The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

The feast commemorates Christ's actions at the Last Supper, when he is said to have instituted the Eucharist by first holding a piece of bread and saying: "Take this, this is my body."

Francis applied wide ranging social consequences to that action on Friday, saying those who participate in the Eucharist enter into a communion that requires them to give care for all.

"When we take and eat this bread, we become associated with the life of Jesus, we enter into communion with Him," said the pontiff. "We commit ourselves to realize the communion between us, to transform our life into a gift, overall to the most poor."

"Today's feast evokes this integral message and pushes us to welcome the intimate invitation to conversion and to service, to love and to forgive," the pope continued. "It stimulates us to become, with our lives, imitators of that which we celebrate in the liturgy."

"The Christ who feeds us in the consecrated species of bread and wine is the same that we meet in daily occurrences," said Francis. "It is the poor person who pulls our hand, it is the suffering person that implores our help, it is the brother that asks our availability and waits for our welcome."

"It is in every human being, even the smallest and most defenseless," he said.

"The Eucharist, source of love for the life of the Church, is a school of love and solidarity," said the pontiff. "Who nourishes themselves from the Bread of Christ cannot remain indifferent in front of how many do not have their daily bread."

"Today we know that it is always a most grave problem, notwithstanding the interventions of the international community and of many organizations," he said. "We must therefore pinpoint proposals and precise projects to resolve the structural causes."

Francis was speaking Sunday above St. Peter's Square, where thousands of pilgrims had gathered on a hot and sunny day in Rome. Several of the pilgrims were holding a large sing reading "Welcome back," referring to the pope's whirlwind visit Saturday to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mentioning the sign and saying thanks to those who made it, Francis reviewed the trip, saying he had gone there "as a pilgrim of peace and hope."

"Sarajevo is a symbolic city," the pope said. "For centuries it was the place of coexistence between peoples and religions, often being called the 'Jerusalem of the West.'"

"In the recent past it has become a symbol of destruction and war," he said. "Now there is in progress a good process of reconciliation."

"This is overall why I went: To encourage this path of peaceful coexistence between diverse populations," the pope continued. "A strenuous path -- difficult, but possible!"

Francis' 11-hour visit in Sarajevo saw the pontiff take part in eight meetings.

The day wrapped up with several intense encounters, including testimonies from priests and religious who shared harrowing tales of the pain and suffering of Catholics during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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