.- On his final day in South America Pope Francis visited the poorest neighborhood in Paraguay’s capitol, encouraging residents to practice solidarity, because without it one’s faith is either hypocritical or dead.
“Jesus didn’t have any problem with lowering, humbling himself unto death for each one of us out of this solidarity among brothers, this love that his Father had for each one of us,” the Pope said in off-the-cuff remarks July 12.
“Remember; when a faith doesn’t have solidarity, it’s weak, it’s ill or it’s dead. It’s not the faith of Jesus.”
He said that faith makes us aware of our commitment and solidarity, with others, which he said is “a human and Christian virtue that many, many, including ourselves, need to understand. A faith which does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead, or which lies.”
The strongest witness their community can give is one of solidarity, he said, explaining that the devil will try to cause division, and if that happens “he breaks you and steals your faith. Solidarity among brothers and sisters. This solidarity is the message for the whole city.”
On the final day of his July 5-13 tour of South America Pope Francis stopped to visit the Bañado Norte neighborhood in Paraguay’s capital Asunciòn, where roughly 100,000 of the poorest of the poor live. Before coming to Paraguay, the Pope visited the nations of Ecuador and Bolivia.
Before giving his speech, the Pope heard testimonies from two residents, who spoke out against the abuse of human rights, the low economy and poor living conditions in the neighborhood.
Angélica Viveros, a member of Bañado Norte’s Saint Philip and James parish, told the Pope that “in the sickness, death, uncertainty, hunger and now the floods forcing thousands of families to abandon our home, we feel the strength, the protection and the closeness of God our Father and Mary our Mother.”
For them to be a part of the Church, she said, means “to feel and touch the suffering flesh of Jesus in the poor who live excluded, in the child on the street, in the Father of the family without work, in the women who are victims of violence, in the youth without horizons due to a lack of opportunity to study and work.”
She said that this is part of their prayers, as well as for residents to participate in fostering unity and solidarity so that everyone lives a dignified live, and they “stop being manipulated by political opportunists who exploit our needs.”
María García, another resident and coordinator of the “Organizations of the Bañados,” lamented how high land and housing prices, low incomes and destruction of indigenous habitats cause the forced displacement of many people and the shantytowns to grow.
The state, she said, “isn’t concerned about us and doesn’t look at us with good eyes. We are not see as subjects with rights, but we are, as we often say, their ‘social liability.’ We are a problem to be solved.”
For the state, she said, the problem is not their needs and wants, but it is “us, our very existence.”
She demanded a “genuine recognition” of being an inseparable part of humanity as a whole, and called for regularized land tenure at affordable costs, that they have the means to improve the land that they already have, and for the possibility of health care and a dignified education.
In his speech, Pope Francis told the residents of Bañado Norte to think about how Mary and Joseph were also left with nothing when they were forced to leave their homes, family and friends in order to a place where they had nothing and knew no one.
“That was when that young couple had Jesus. That was how they gave us Jesus. They were alone, in a strange land, just the three of them,” he said.
However, soon shepherds began to arrive, people just like them who had to leave their homes to find better opportunities for their families, the Pope observed, noting that their lives were also affected by both harsh weather many other hardships.
(But) when they heard that Jesus had been born, they went to see him. They became neighbors. In an instant, they became a family to Mary and Joseph. The family of Jesus.”
This is what happens when Jesus enters into our lives, Francis continued, explaining that faith brings us closer and makes us neighbors to each other. It also awakens a commitment of solidarity, he said.
“A faith which does not draw us into solidarity is a faith which is dead. It is a faith without Christ, a faith without God, a faith without brothers and sisters.”
The first to show this solidarity was Jesus Christ, he said, explaining that “God came in the midst of this people that he elected to accompany them, and he sent his son to this people to save them, to help them…Jesus had solidarity with this people.”
“When faith doesn’t have solidarity, it’s weak, it’s ill or it’s dead. It’s not the faith of Jesus.”
Pope Francis told residents that he, like the shepherds, wants to be their neighbor and to bless their faith and communities. He said that the faith which Jesus awakens in us is what allows us to dream about the future, and to work for it even in the present moment.
He encouraged them to be missionaries, and “to keep spreading the faith in these streets and alleys. Be neighbors above all to the young and the elderly. Be a support for young families and all families which are experiencing difficulty.”
Francis concluded his speech by commending each of the residents and their families to the care of the Holy Family, praying that the witness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph would be light for their path and an encouragement in times of difficulty.
“May the Holy Family always help us to be shepherds who can accompany, support and encourage our families,” he said, and asked the residents to keep him in their prayers.