Helping the poor is a 'passport to paradise,' Pope says

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis welcomed the poor, homeless and unemployed as guests of honor for a Mass and gourmet meal in the Vatican on Sunday, saying that helping the needy was one way of obtaining a "passport to paradise".

Francis celebrated a Mass marking the Roman Catholic Church's first yearly World Day of the Poor, which the pope established to draw the attention of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics to the neediest.

Volunteers from charity organizations brought about 7,000 needy people to St Peter's Basilica for a special Mass celebrated by the pope, who has made defense of the poor, immigrants and downtrodden a major plank of his papacy.

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Pope Francis invites the poor to lunch following mass
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Pope Francis invites the poor to lunch following mass
A general view shows the Paul VI audience hall where Pope Francis welcomes 500 people in need and those who assist them to have lunch, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. Pope Francis celebrated a mass today to mark the first World Day of the Poor. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
SAINT PETER'S BASILICA, VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - 2017/11/19: Pope Francis celebrates a mass on the occasion of the first World Day of the Poor in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, Vatican on November 19, 2017. On Sunday morning in St. Peters Basilica, four thousand poor and needy people, accompanied by volunteers from Italy, France, Spain, Brussels, Luxembourg and Poland take part in a Mass celebrated by Pope Francis. (Photo by Giuseppe Ciccia/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) speaks with people around a table at the Paul VI audience hall where 500 people in need and those who assist them will have lunch, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. Pope Francis celebrated a mass today to mark the first World Day of the Poor. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) delivers a speech at the Paul VI audience hall where 500 people in need and those who assist them will have lunch, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. Pope Francis celebrated a mass today to mark the first World Day of the Poor. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A Swiss Guard stands in St Peter's basilica during a Holy mass to mark the first World Day of the Poor, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis (R) arrives at the Paul VI audience hall where 500 people in need and those who assist them will have lunch, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. Pope Francis celebrated a mass today to mark the first World Day of the Poor. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows the Paul VI audience hall where Pope Francis (top C) welcomes 500 people in need and those who assist them to have lunch, on November 19, 2017 in Vatican. Pope Francis celebrated a mass today to mark the first World Day of the Poor. / AFP PHOTO / Vincenzo PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
A general view shows Pope Francis arriving to have a lunch with the poor following a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis arrives for a lunch with the poor following a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis speaks before sharing a lunch with the poor following a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis leads a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Cardinals and bishops attend a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor led by Pope Francis (not pictured) in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis leads a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Cardinals and bishops attend a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor led by Pope Francis (not pictured) in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis leads a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
Pope Francis has lunch with the poor following a special mass to mark the new World Day of the Poor in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican, November 19, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi
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About 1,500 of them were having lunch with the pope in the Vatican's large audience hall and others were being taken to eat as guests in nearby pontifical colleges.

Most of the needy people were from Rome and other parts of Italy but charity groups also brought groups from France, Spain, Germany and Poland.

"If in the eyes of the world they (the poor) have little value, they are the ones who open to us the way to heaven; they are our 'passport to paradise'. For us it is an evangelical duty to care for them ...," he said in his homily.

"God will not ask us if we felt righteous indignation, but whether we did some good," he said, labeling indifference as a sin of omission.

The pope said this "is when we say, 'that doesn't concern me; it's not my business, it's society's problem.'

"It is when we turn away from a brother or sister in need, when we change channels as soon as a disturbing question comes up, when we grow indignant at evil but do nothing about it."

The menu for the poor was selected by Sergio Dussin, the same chef who prepares meals for visiting dignitaries at Vatican conferences.

It consisted of dishes the poor can only dream of: mini gnocchi, fish with tomatoes, olives, Venetian cheese, veal with vegetables and Venetian-style tiramisu for dessert.

Three days after his election in 2013, Francis said: "Oh, how I would like a poor Church, and for the poor."

He since given up some of the trappings of the papacy, shunning the spacious papal apartments in the Vatican's Apostolic Palace for a modest residence in a guest house.

He also has put aside the papal limousine and is driven around Rome in a simple blue Ford Focus.

 

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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