Place of possibility3 Sep 2023
Pope Francis’ prayer intention for people living on the margins this September is for all peoples who may feel overlooked or undervalued.
When Pope Francis prays for people on the margins, the margins are more than the line that separates the rich from the poor. The margins are hard places in which to live but they are also privileged places of possibility. The margins are the deserts that divide civilisation from nowhere. In Jesus’ time they were the deserts where heat and cold made it hard to live, snakes and demons were thought to prey. They were also burial grounds, places between life and death, between death and the hope of another life.
For Pope Francis the army field-hospital was a marginal place where priests should be. In war it divides the slaughter of the battlefield and the peace of home, between death and life. As an image it marks the relationship between the Church and the world and so is the place where God and the world meet.
THE PEOPLE WHOM GOD LOVES
When Pope Francis prays for people on the margins, he has in mind people who are pitched between isolation and society, between desperation and hope, between dirt and cleanliness, between hunger and plenty. They are the people whom God loves, our brothers and sisters. They include refugees and homeless people, forced from one place as home and desperate to find another, people with addictions living between desperation and hope, and people who are poor between the last meal and the hope of the next.
In his prayer Pope Francis is not content to pray for the people who live on the margins. He also prays that they find a home, enough food, hope and a welcome in society. In particular, he prays that the societies that thrust people out to the margins might welcome them in.
In this, institutions – the fixed relationships within society that shape the way in which people respond to one another – are particularly important. All too often these push people out to the edges. They put children into detention centres where they lose their childhood, their roots in the families, and their hope. They keep refugees detained and unable to build their lives. They prevent people without credit cards and computers from finding the job that will help them feed their families. They patrol the boundaries that keep people outside the fence.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS
The reason why our institutions do this and why we don’t notice is that we don’t see the people whom we exclude as our sisters and brothers. That is why Pope Francis prays that people who live on the margins will never be considered of lesser importance, and so be denied entry to hotels, be put at the end of queues, refused an education or health care, denied service because of their colour, fear for their safety because of their dress.
All these things happen. This what institutions do in our name. They represent our blindness to Jesus’ presence in the poorest and dirtiest of our brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis’ prayer invites us to see the world as Jesus does and to go out to welcome people at the margins of our world as Jesus did. Not simply for priests but for all people within the Church our public world is a field hospital. That can be a scary place, but it is also the place of possibility where we find Jesus already there as brother, as healer and as Lord.