Pope Francis celebrated mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica on Sunday to commemorate World Day of the Poor for the fourth time since it was established in 2016 after the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy prayer period. But unlike other years when the church was full of homeless and charity workers, the Covid-19 pandemic meant the event had to be scaled down.
The number of attendees was limited to around 100, representing those around the world who face poverty as well as volunteers and benefactors who assist them.
Those who did participate in the mass on Sunday were socially distanced and wore face masks. The mass was live streamed on the Vatican website.
The theme for this year’s World Day of the Poor was “Stretch forth your hand to the poor”.
In his message for the 2020 World Day of the Poor, the pope said: “This pandemic arrived suddenly and caught us unprepared, sparking a powerful sense of bewilderment and helplessness. This has made us all the more aware of the presence of the poor in our midst and their need for help.”
In his homily at the mass, Pope Francis called on Catholics to take risks to help the millions of people worldwide who live below in poverty. “The poor guarantee us an eternal income,” he said. “Even now they help us become rich in love. For the worst kind of poverty needing to be combatted is our poverty of love.”
In past years, after the mass, Pope Francis would normally have lunch with 1,500 homeless in the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican but that tradition had to be broken this year due to the pandemic and in order to comply with the Italian government’s current regulations.
The Vatican was also unable to provide a “field hospital” for the poor in Saint Peter’s Square for a week, as it has done in the past.
But it came up with other initiatives this year. A smaller clinic was set up under the colonnade in Saint Peter’s Square where free Covid-19 swab tests are offered to people who need them to be able to stay at homeless shelters or to return home abroad.
Over the past couple of weeks, about 50 tests a day have been carried out. In addition, mobile units at different locations on the outskirts of Rome are also offering free HIV and hepatitis-C tests.
Unable to host the homeless for lunch this year, the Vatican was sending 5,000 food packages to families in around 60 parishes in Rome. The food boxes contained pasta, tomato sauce, coffee, cookies and chocolate. Also included inside them were face masks and a card with a prayer by Pope Francis.