The 'wealth' of the church
Richness does not lie in the structures, but in its members, with special mention to the most needy and vulnerable.
Pope Francis blesses a young woman during an audience with homeless and socially excluded people in the Paul VI Hall
on Nov. 11, 2016 at the Vatican. (Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP)
It is my hope that my reflections will evoke in you a similar sense of thanksgiving and belonging without, of course, denying our flaws and lack of perfection.
Let me share stories (as Jesus also made use of parables) and personal experiences. I hope that in your own way 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 poor brothers and sisters of ours did not have any idea.
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.
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 meal followed.
One of the visitors, Lina (not her real name), has been staying day and night near the main entrance of our office across St. Peter's Basilica. She has been there for more than ten years and she greets me every single day.
She was so happy recounting to me that singular experience when she was treated in a special way and with dignity as a 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 offers hot meals every day, while other church volunteers leave the homeless something to eat when they wake up in the morning.
In the Vatican, there is an office in charge of mainly looking 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 through 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: "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept my faith."
Filipino Claretian missionary Father Elias Ayuban Jr., a doctor of Canon Law, is an official at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in the Holy See.