Because this is the core of the Church’s mission.
A society that wants to develop healthily must practice the principle of solidarity. This principle tells us that we should take responsibility for each other and stand in solidarity with those who need help the most, especially the poor and disadvantaged. The Church always shown a special concern for the poor, and in recent documents she refers to this concern as a “preferential option for the poor”.
“The preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force.” (St John Paul II, Puebla 1979 in Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #182)
The Church therefore does not consider the concern for the poor an optional act for those who want to go the extra mile. As a matter of fact, Pope St Gregory the Great warned not to confuse mercy with justice regarding care for the poor:
“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice. … what is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity” (St Gregory the Great in Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church #184).
St John Paul II also considered poverty a matter of justice: “Poverty poses a dramatic problem of justice in its various forms and with its various effects, it is characterised by an unequal growth that does not recognise the ‘equal right of all people to take their seat at the table for the common banquet’.” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, #33)
God is love. It is in the nature of love to prefer those who need love most. If a mother has five children and one of them is often sick and in need of care, to which of her children is she going to care first and foremost? Obviously, the one who needs care most.
Jesus showed his preference for the poor, the sick and the sinners. And so should the Church of Jesus. The preferential option of the Church for the poor is not optional, and not only a matter of social justice. It is a sign of her reflection of the love of God.
And this is why, as Catholics, we should help the poor. It is our identity as Catholics.
Written by Fr David Garcia. This article was first published in Caritas’ newsletter, Caritas in Mission.