Leo XIII on Evangelizing the Poor

Today Pope Francis released a major new document, the biggest so far of his pontificate, on Evangelization. He has a lot to say about poverty and our response to it. Perhaps this is a good time to share an interesting passage from a papal document from 130 years ago.

Something I have noticed in my study of papal teaching is what seems like a great distance between our pastoral strategies and priorities today and more traditional ones. Today it feels like we assume the only people worth evangelizing are the rich and powerful. We are very interested, for example, in campus ministry (according to the US Census, about 16.5% of Americans over the age of 25 have attended some college; about 7.7% have graduated), but not so interested in the inner city or blue-collar people. Outreach to lawyers is alive and well; the parish Holy Name Society is completely neglected. Good priests go to rich parishes. Catholic labor unions are less than a distant memory. That, I believe, is a rejection of Catholic tradition.

I like the following paragraphs from Pope Leo XIII because of all the forms of communities he names. Concrete pastoral ideas for a Church that cares about people who aren’t rich and powerful. I only add that there are an awful lot of ideas like this, including in more recent papal documents – we just choose to ignore them:


“Awaken the sleeping, stimulate the hesitating; by your example and your authority train them all to fulfill with constancy and courage the duties which are the Christian life in action.

And in order to maintain and develop this revived courage, means must be taken to promote the growth, multiplication, harmony, and fruitfulness of Associations the principal object of which should be to preserve and excite zeal for the Christian faith and other virtues. Such are the associations of young men and of workmen; such are the committees organized by Catholics, and meeting periodically; such are the institutions destined to relieve poverty, to protect the sanctification of festival days, to instruct the children of the poor, and several others of the same kind.”

-Leo XIII, Etsi nos, 1882


One Comment

  1. Reading your comments about evangelizing the poor reminded me that now, as a farmer, I have a wide open door to the marginalized and dirty and broken since I can provide something everybody needs! Food! I also share my farm with hard working marginalized Hmong farmers. I don’t even know all their names yet. Boy do I need this Leonine and Francine kick in the pants right now!

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