French homeless from different French cities, shake hands with Pope Francis upon his arrival for his weekly general audience in St Peter’s square at the Vatican on October 22, 2014. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
THE ‘WEALTH’ OF THE CHURCH
Allow me to continue my sharing on behalf of our mother Church, the icon of the Holy Triune God, as a simple way of showing my gratitude to her. It is my hope that my series of reflections will evoke in you similar sense of thanksgiving and belonging without, of course, denying our flaws and lack of perfection. Let me do this mainly by stories (as Jesus also made use of parables), and by using personal and vicarious experiences hoping that, in your own ways and time, you can also share your own to others.
One day in Rome, the homeless were gathered together for a ‘special event,’ how special that would be, these less privileged brothers and sisters of ours did not have any idea yet. With the most modest clothes that they could avail of and with name tags hanging on their chests, they were ushered into the Vatican museum that was reserved for them at that moment. But the best was yet to come. As they entered the Sistine Chapel, there was Pope Francis waiting for them and told them in words to this effect: “This place also belongs to you.” Then a simple ‘salo-salo’ (agape) followed.
One of them is Lina (not her real name) who stays day and night near the main entrance of our office. She has been there for more than 10 years now and she greets me every single day. She was so happy recounting me of that singular experience when she was treated in a special way and with dignity as daughter of the Church.
Lina could have opted to stay in one of the institutions provided for by the diocese of Rome and other religious movements. But like other homeless people, she has decided to sleep on the pavement alone, surrounded by ‘strangers’ during the day and the columns of Bernini at night. Perhaps, her only solace is the Church that attends to her needs. Pope Francis has provided showers, parlors and laundry for the poor in the vicinity run by volunteers, where Lina goes in times of need. The Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa offer hot meals everyday, while other Church volunteers leave the homeless people something to eat when they wake up in the morning. In the Vatican, there is an office in charge mainly to look after the poorest among the poor, called ‘Elemosineria” or Office of Papal Charities. When you order ‘papal blessings,’ the proceeds go to this purpose.
When St. Lawrence was told to surrender the wealth of the Church, he brought the poor, the old, the lame, the sick and the broken, saying these are the riches of the Church.
Thus, the true wealth of the Church does not lie in the structures, but in us her members, with special mention to the most needy and vulnerable. Indeed, the Church is very rich in arts, churches, history, liturgy, etc. but we do not glory in them. We glory in Christ Jesus, the captain of this boat, where all of us are passengers.
The Vatican at present gets its income mainly from the entrance fees to the museum, dome, gardens, from the Vatican pharmacy and department store, from the religious articles sold, and from donations and wills from devout Catholics. It is not true that the Vatican receives a share of our parish collections. On the contrary, it is the Vatican that helps financially poor local churches on a regular basis like the vicariates though the Propaganda Fide.
Every diocese is autonomous including its finances. Every religious congregation is the same. Although, the Holy See oversees the administration of all ecclesiastical goods to ascertain that they serve the mission of the Church, every institution administers its own patrimony with certain freedom and discretion. One diocese can be ‘richer’ than the other in terms of income, in the same token that some religious congregations have more properties than the others, that is why I know of some well-off parishes and congregations helping other poorer parishes/congregations in ways that they know best.
At the end of our pilgrimage on earth, we hope that we can also echo the words of St. Paul in his letter to his friend, Timothy, in today’s second reading: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept my faith.”
A blessed Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul!
FR. ELIAS AYUBAN, CMF