By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Like St. Francis of Assisi did, the
Catholic Church and individual Christians must follow Christ by imitating his
willingness to give up everything for the sake of others, Pope Francis said.
“Unfortunately, 2,000 years after the proclamation of
the Gospel and eight centuries after the witness of Francis, we face a
phenomenon of global inequity and an economy that kills,” the pope said in
an April 16 letter to the archbishop of Assisi, Italy.
The pope’s letter offered his blessings and support for the
decision of the Diocese of Assisi to establish a shrine in memory of the
“divestiture” of St. Francis.
The shrine, which will be inaugurated May 20, will be housed
in the town’s Church of St. Mary Major, but also will include public access to
the “Sala della Spogliazione,” literally the Room of the Divesting.
The room in the bishop’s residence is where a young St. Francis — in the
presence of his father and of the bishop — stripped naked and renounced all
“Renouncing all earthly goods, he unchained himself
from the enchantment with the god money, which had seduced his family,”
the pope wrote in his letter to Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi.
“The new Assisi shrine is born as a prophecy of a
society that is more just and more in solidarity,” the pope said, but it
also “reminds the church of its obligation to live, in the footsteps of
Francis, stripping itself of worldliness and dressing itself with the values of
Pope Francis said he is certain St. Francis did not act out
of a lack of respect for his father, a wealthy merchant, but out of a
conviction that “one who is baptized must put love for Christ above all
In 2013, when Pope Francis went to Assisi for the first time
as pope, he met in the “Sala della Spogliazione” with individuals and
families assisted by the local Catholic charities. In his April letter, the pope wrote that the people gave
witness to “the scandalous reality of a world marked by a gap between an
immense number of indigent people, often deprived of the most basic necessities,
and the miniscule number of the rich who possess the majority of wealth and
think they can determine the destiny of humanity.”
But in following Christ, he said, “we are all called to
be poor, to strip ourselves of our egos; and to do this we must learn how to be
with the poor, to share with those who lack basic necessities, to touch the
flesh of Christ! The Christian is not one who speaks about the poor, no! He is
one who encounters them, who looks them in the eye, who touches them.”
The church must make Christ its model for the way it
deals with worldly goods and the way it treats the poor, the pope said.
St. Francis “had received the mandate” to repair the
church of his time, he said. And while the church “is holy in the gifts it
receives from on high, it is formed by sinners and so always in need of
repentance and renewal. And how can it renew itself if not by looking upon its
naked Lord? Christ is the original model of the ‘divesting,'” making
himself a slave and dying for the sins of humanity.
“The divesting is a mystery of love,” the pope
said. “It does not mean despising the world. How could it? The world comes
from the hands of God.”
But, Pope Francis said, it does mean using creation and
worldly goods carefully and in solidarity with those who have less access to
what they need to survive.
Goods must be used according to a “hierarchy of values
that gives first place to love,” he said.
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