As we celebrate the third World Day of the Poor, prophetically established by Pope Francis, I have just returned from a very unique visitation to Columbia and Venezuela. Let me limit myself here to Venezuela, because of some very touching experiences in this country.
Venezuela, as we all know, is one of the resourcefully rich countries of the world, blessed with Petroleum, gold, and many other precious minerals. In the 1960's, this was one of South America’s wealthiest countries, enjoying the highest standard of living; yet today, how different the situation.
1 US dollar is equal to about 30,000 Venezuelan Bolivar. The monthly earnings of a worker is around $5; a medical doctor told me he gets $20 per month, if he even comes to be paid. Just imagine, then, the situation of ordinary people.
Millions are migrating to all parts of the world. If possible, the able bodied men and women escape the country, leaving behind their parents and grandparents. People die not because they cannot be healed, but for lack of ordinary medicines; medicines which are either unavailable, or people are too poor to purchase them.
One woman I met was suffering from skin cancer and heart problems; she can do nothing. This is a true story. Just imagine her plight.
For lack of money or limited transports, children and teachers are unable to go to school. While there are many more examples to narrate, my intention is not to show this wonderful country in a bad way.
Paradoxically, despite all of these hardships, I found the people very affectionate and joyful. I met with so many pastoral groups working in the parishes, and hardly anyone spoke about their hardships, or asked for any sort of help. The people were so nice, and I was really touched by them.
Through Caritas Poland and local aid, our parishes are organizing soup kitchens and many other charitable activities together with the parishioners. As a small contribution from We Are A Mission, I myself went around distributing food items in one of our parishes. It was a very touching experience.
Pope Francis speaks much about the poor, migrants, and the culture of indifference. At times, people get annoyed; why does the Pope keep harping over the poor?
The question is precisely what he posed to us in his homily: “do I have at least one poor person as a friend in my life?”
Have we come face to face with this poverty in our lives as Christians, or are we merely experts on speaking about it; limiting ourselves to words, and not truly encountering this existentially dark reality? Again as the Holy Father has written, “let us set statistics aside: the poor are not statistics to cite. The poor are persons to be encountered; they are lonely, young and old, to be invited to our homes to share a meal; men, women, and children who look for a friendly word.”
Those who lived through the Second World War in Europe will know what it means to survive during and after, yet their grandchildren may not even like to read about those days anymore. It is one thing to speak about poverty, but it is something altogether greater if one has had a real taste of it.
When Venezuela- a country greatly blessed by God with all the necessary riches for a decent living- is reduced to such a level of inhumanity by fellow human beings, can we remain indifferent as though it is only their problem? It’s as good as saying that the Amazonian issue is something of only a few countries of that area. But devoid of Amazon, the rest of us would be gasping for oxygen!
When a family with a couple of small children wake up in the morning with neither food nor money to purchase it, how will the parents control the weeping kids?
When some worry over their health due to overeating, having to count calories after all of the food they consume and walk for hours after they have eaten, it looks so absurd and paradoxical that millions elsewhere starve to death. This is the naked truth that makes us feel uncomfortable.
Many will wash their hands and say that it’s all because of corruption or political anarchy in these countries. That is all true. The sanctions that many countries impose to correct these unjust structures and systems will end up hitting the poorest of the poor, and not those at the top, is another truth. I am not writing these lines with the hope of solving all the world’s problems. Instead, it’s to show that the poor are the blessed.
The poor find their ultimate trust in Yahweh when all other sources of security are vanish. These are the people blessed with a genuine sense of humanity and compassion, as true evangelical joy is found in poverty and simplicity of life. The Lord of the Universe, Master of our History and Destiny, will make the necessary corrections and justice at the end. Until then- like Sunday’s Gospel- patience and perseverance in our trust in HIM, and the goodness in each person, must prevail. The best comes out of us when we are cornered to such a level. The more efforts there are efforts to destroy our humanity and dignity as persons, the greater will be in the interior force to manifest the beauty of freedom and preciousness imprinted upon us as an image and likeness of God.
As we celebrate World Day of the Poor, let us unite ourselves with our Holy Father; kindling a candle of hope for the suffering parts of the world, be it through a smile, prayer, or even a dollar. Who knows, tomorrow we might need them, as this is so much part of our human condition. It is no wonder, then, that the Son of God Himself chose to be born poor to make us rich in divine blessings. “The poor save us, because they enable us to encounter the face of Jesus Christ.”
Fr. Jacob Nampudakam SAC is the Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. He was elected in October 2010 and is the first non-European Rector General. This interviewed was conducted by Catholic Apostolate Center Program Associate Julianne Calzonetti in Rome, Italy.
1. Matthew 4:1-3a: Jesus spent 40 days in the dessert: What have been some of your greatest trials in 40 years?
Two main trials:
First, I am always in favour of life. Following Deuteronomy 30, 19-20, I had to make a choice between blessing or curse, life or death. God challenges us to choose life.
In life we find hope; the ability to live in wonder, nurture in love, and not despair. Hence when members show a spirit of defeatism and negativity- without making efforts to create life- it is challenging. Nothing is achieved by being chronically negative. “Rather, the one who loves Christ is full of joy and radiates joy,” as Pope Francis reminds us.
Second, when members become instruments of disunity rather than unity; allowing themselves to be guided by worldliness instead of the Spirit. This is the antithesis of Jesus Christ, who tells us that His Kingdom is not of this world. Following anything other than the Spirit will lead to confusion and destruction; a problem which then takes root in the afflicted person’s heart. Thus, internal problems become external situations, which are very difficult to handle.
2. Joshua 5:6 The Israelites walked 40 years in the desert: What has been your greatest moment of trusting the Lord?
“Abandon yourself to God,” St. Vincent tells us, “with perfect confidence and do not fear.” In breathing these words, we are graced with the bravery God willingly gives to go forth and proclaim the Gospel to all creation. We can also use such words to explain two of our missions, Peru and Vietnam. If we lived in the world, we would say such ambitions were impossible, as they were taken up by entities with very few members. Yet instead they are flourishing; for in our steadfast courage and faith, the Lord blessed us in a hundredfold.
The moral of the story is this: trust the Gospel. Take no purse, no haversack. He is with you.
Another element of surprise was my election as Rector General. It’s not easy to break the frontiers and boundaries set by International Congregations, but when the fresh air of the Spirit blows through the windows, thy will be done.
3. Jesus remained on earth 40 days after his Resurrection: What is your hope and mission, father, for the remainder of your term as Rector General, as well as the remainder of your time as Jesus' anointed one on his earthly pilgrimage?
First goal: Make our holy founder known and loved by as many as possible; to offer his charism of the Union of the Catholic Apostolate in service of the Church’s mission.
Second goal: Give the compass to God, listen to the cries of His people, and “be led forth with peace” (Isaiah 55:12) to the peripheries. May we be the soul that God brings to their feet, so that they may have the life in abundance He has promised.
In all my journeys, what my eyes have seen cannot leave me unaffected. But in each, the open wound of my heart remains the same: for the innocent children who are deprived of love, laughter, family, medicine, education… human dignities that no person on this earth should be denied. We all have equal rights for the blessings given to us by the Creator. To live in luxury disregarding the poor around us- like the parable of the rich man and Lazarus- would be the greatest sin of a Christian.
We are all poor before God.
4. 40 is seen as a generation in the Bible. What has changed in the Society and Missions? What has been made better/worse?
Everything changes. We try to discern and respond to the signs of the times. Yes, the Society has grown. We have reached out to as many as 56 countries around the world. There are about 2400 members in the Society, and then, of course, the entire Pallottine Family.
The scenario in the Church and all the religious Congregations is changing; and it’s moving south.
Though this makes no difference; I believe it matters little where we are growing or diminishing in any part of the world. The Church is one body of Christ. Through the consecration we make, we become members of the Society. As so often said by me on visitations, we may be Italians, Germans, Polish, Brazilians, Indians etc., but we are all Pallottines, and one family.
I do not believe in lamenting over the decline in one part of the world or rejoicing too much about the growth elsewhere. Such things happened in the past and continue to happen today. Tomorrow has not yet come. The Spirit moves where it wills! Success or failure – let history judge us.
5. As this generation ends, God makes another anew, just as the papacy of Francis is evermore on target with the teachings of Pallotti in Gaudete. How will you lead us in following his papal mission?
The greatness of any Christian must be measured by his or her fidelity to the life of Jesus as we encounter him in the Gospel. For me, Pope Francis is someone who lives the Gospel in its radicality. The will of God is our sanctification.
There are 3 similarities between our holy founder and Francis:
1. The life of Jesus as the fundamental rule of life and apostolate;
2. A poor Church for the poor;
3. Go forth to the peripheries of human life.
These three steps are only possible when the first is achieved: Encounter the person of Jesus in the Gospel on a daily basis.
6. India: You are the first non-European Rector General. What have been the changes over 40 years you have seen in your country?
While India as a country is slowly coming of age, what strikes me is the tremendous contribution that the minority Church- 2% of the Catholic population- is making to the Universal Church. In our Society- and the Pallottine Family as a whole- the growth in India is tremendous. No doubt, we are not talking about a perfect situation in all areas, just as in any other part of the world.
The unique contributions of the Indian Pallottines are most fruitful where we are able to be faithful to our rich, spiritual traditions and work zealously to be instruments of peace and communal harmony. The 58 schools run by the Pallottines, with thousands of teachers and students from all religions, could serve as the best instrument to promote unity and peace in a world divided by religious disharmony.
The One Almighty and Loving God is the Creator of every human person created in His own image and likeness. The ability to respect and love every human being, regardless of his nationality, culture or creed, and be able to see the face of God on each person, will make us universal human beings. The future of the Society, the Church, and the world itself will depend much on this ability to go to the most profound ontological and existential level and be universal persons.
Building walls is a sign of innate fear and insecurity. Having grown up in a multi-religious context in India, where we played and grew up with Hindu, Muslim and Sikh youngsters, it does not frighten me to deal with one of a different faith. Experiences mould us. Let’s open up as a Society and work for the common good. But firstly, let’s open up our hearts. That is exactly the work of the Holy Spirit; who opened up the newly founded Church on the day of Pentecost.
Today ends a yearlong celebration of the Jubilee of the 200th Anniversary of the Ordination to the Priesthood of St. Vincent Pallotti. In celebrations in 54 countries around the world and beyond, Pallotti’s foundation, the Union of Catholic Apostolate, is offering thanks for his life of selfless ministry. Ordained on May 16, 1818 as a priest of the Diocese of Rome, Pallotti served his entire life in the city, especially through pastoral care of the poor, sick, prisoners, and dying, spiritual direction, education, and sacramental ministry, particularly the Eucharist and Penance.
Through reviving faith and rekindling charity as a priest always in collaboration with others, he was inspired 17 years later to found an association of lay people, religious and clergy that would assist the Church’s missionary efforts, revive the faith of Catholics, and live universal charity. He called it the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Only after almost 20 years of priestly ministry did he form a community of priests and brothers as well as a community of sisters. Both communities were small by the time of his death in 1850, but today are throughout the world.
Fr. Jacob Nampudakam, S.A.C., the Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers) in his book, The Spirit of the Priesthood according to St. Vincent Pallotti, summarizes well the way in which Pallotti went about his priestly ministry:
“Vincent Pallotti from the very beginning of his priestly life, committed himself to live out all of the implications of the ministerial priesthood and revive its evangelical spirit. He interiorized the priesthood as a following of Jesus Christ and expanded his vision and put it into practice by means of priestly activities” (9).
Pallotti in and through his priestly ministry lived the life of an apostle, a follower of Christ who is sent out into the world to share the Gospel in word and deed. As apostles, we are not alone, as Pope Francis notes:
“I entrust all of you to the protection of Mary Most Holy, whom St. Vincent Pallotti venerated especially as Queen of Apostles. Her good example of apostolic zeal and perfect charity, invites us to pray without ceasing to invoke the gifts of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of today, so that the Gospel of her Son can be proclaimed in every part of the world.”
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
In Christ, Apostle of the Eternal Father,
Jubilee Message from His Eminence Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone on behalf of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
At the conclusion of the celebrations (of the aforesaid Religious Community) marking the 50th anniversary of the canonization of St. Vincent Pallotti, the Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI, happily joins (you) in thanking and praising God for the numerous spiritual benefits granted in this jubilee year and all through the nearly two centuries of faithful service by the Pallottines. During the past year every spiritual child of Pallotti has been able to draw invaluable lessons from the person and the work of the Founder and from the richness of his Charism inspired in him by the Holy Spirit and the precious teachings still relevant in the Church. St. Vincent recognized that the faith of his time was lukewarm; he committed himself to reviving it so that every believer might witness to the living God. His foundation – the Union of Catholic Apostolate – aimed at enlivening the faith and leading all to Jesus Christ. To that end the Saint also promoted several other concrete initiatives in order to enhance reverence for the ancient institution of the Church, and to animate and propagate sound doctrine. He also sought to multiply spiritual and corporal works of mercy urged on by the precept of charity, because God being love itself there is nothing more effective than works of charity to give a new impetus to the faith. Pallotti also strove to safe-guard the dignity of sacred buildings, propagate a simple explanation of the Gospel and proposed spiritual exercises for people of all walks of life. In short, he encouraged any work which, according to the time and circumstances, would prove opportune for the revival of faith.
Our own times too manifests signs of a profound crisis as is evident in the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “the true problem of our moment of history is that God continues to disappear from the life of man, and shutting out the light of God man is increasingly struck by a lack of orientation; its destructive effects are becoming increasingly evident. (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, 10 March 2010).
The Jubilee of the Pallottine family coincides with the Year of Faith declared by the Holy Father “to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope. It will also be a good opportunity to intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially in the Eucharist, which is “the summit towards which the activity of the Church is directed; ... and also the source from which all its power flows.” At the same time, we make it our prayer that believers’ witness of life may grow in credibility” (Porta Fidei, 9). This is the true danger to the faith, that modern and post modern idols could assume the place of God. They enslave us with the yoke of new and subtle idolatry visible to all. In such a context the Holy Father invites every member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate to a generous commitment to working towards rediscovering the way of the Gospel for the man of today, inspired by the message left by St. Vincent Pallotti: “to revive faith and rekindle charity, and lead all men to Christ”. The spiritual and apostolic journey of every component of the Pallottine Family springs from the contemplation of the life and sanctity of the Founder during this jubilee year. It, thus, becomes a confirmation of the words of the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sake and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light—and in the end, the only light—that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working”.
Living faith and active charity are the two pillars on which Vincent Pallotti built up his luminous life and his generous works. They are the two interior forces that have stirred and sustained the manifold apostolic initiatives of Pallotti. “Charity of Christ urges us” (2 Cor. 5:14) was his motto with which he also motivated his followers. The fruit of his labor matured into the foundation of the Union of Catholic Apostolate. Right from its very beginning it greatly valued the collaboration of all of the faithful in the Church – laity, priests and consecrated – enlivening the faith of each that he/she could become an authentic apostle, a bearer of the fire of God’s love.
Sharing with the Pallottine family these reflections on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Holy Founder, the Successor of Peter entrusts the entire Union of Catholic Apostolate to the heavenly protection of Mary most Holy, Queen of Apostles and model of charity, and to St. Vincent Pallotti, invoking a fresh outpouring of the Divine Spirit for a fruitful ministry at the service of the New Evangelization and cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing.
With great esteem, I remain
Most devoted in the Lord
+Tarcisio Card. Bertone
This is an English translation of the Italian original sent to Fr. Jacob Nampudakam SAC, Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate.