A Papal Address in Lima, Peru
On a balmy summer day, Tuesday, February 5, 1985, Pope John Paul II addressed thousands of Peruvian Catholics assembled on the sandy slopes of Villa El Salvador, on the southern edge of Lima, Peru. I was there to see and hear him speak of bread for both the body and the soul. His invitation of 25 years ago continues to be valid in our times.
Pope John Paul II spoke of his feeling of compassion for the residents of the poor barrios of Lima – the abandoned, sick, elderly, unemployed, and children without bread and without education for their future. He stated that he had come to offer the bread of the Word of Christ that gives meaning and dignity to life. He continued with the theme of bread, mentioning how Jesus broke bread and gave it to His disciples to distribute, symbolizing His concern for the bread for both spirit and body.
In this context, the Pope reasserts the Church’s preference for the poor. He returns again to the bread theme, calling on his listeners to remember that as they pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” that “not only by bread do humans live, but also by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” However, he insists that the compassion of Jesus for those in need must be the model for pastors and Church members on seeing the wounds of misery and sickness, of unemployment and hunger, of discrimination and marginalization. In all similar cases, he cannot but see the suffering features of Christ, the Lord, who questions and challenges:
• Any indifference or passivity, since the authentic disciple of Christ must feel in solidarity with the other who is suffering;
• The growing gap between rich and poor, shown by privilege and waste contrasting with situations of misery and deprivation;
• The criteria, mechanisms and structures inspired by principles of economic usefulness, without taking into account the dignity of each person and their rights;
• The insatiable lust for money and consumption that undoes the social fabric, guided only by egoism and the hidden violence of the law of the strongest.
The word of the Gospel that inspires our meeting introduces us to Jesus who, after having miraculously fed the crowd, orders the leftovers to be collected. Those bits of bread and fi sh should not be wasted. They were the bread of a needy crowd, but should have been the bread of solidarity, shared with other needy, not the wasted bread of rejected solidarity.
“Blessed are the merciful,” proclaimed the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. Blessed are they who do not close their hearts to the needs of their brothers and sisters, those who share the little they have with the hungry. Jesus praised the poor widow who gave an offering not from what she had left over, but from what she needed to live. So often the economically poor are more open to God and others, as they hope for everything from Him; they trust and hope in Him.
Give people something to eat; do all possible to give dignity, education, work, home and health care to those who lack all these necessitites. Strive for a more just social order that corrects the inequalities in the distribution of goods. All this will make it possible for each person and family to gain with dignity their daily bread for both body and spirit.
Translated and abbreviated by Columban Father Peter Woodruff, November 25, 2009.
The full text of the address in Spanish and Italian is available at http://www. vatican.va/holy_father/ john_paul_ii/speeches/1985/ february/documents/hf_jp-ii_ spe_19850205_poveri_sp.html.