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The Francis effect? Bishops focus on poverty this Christmas
19 December 2013 13:18 by Sarah Parsons

Recent messages from bishops in England and Wales have revealed a renewed emphasis on poverty with six bishops citing the issue in pastoral letters and statements, research by The Tablet has found. 

The bishops appear to be taking their lead from Pope Francis, who has urged them to be pastors – rather than “princes” – devoted to the poor.

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, has called for a “year of faith in action” urging parishioners to take practical steps to help others including volunteering in foodbanks.

On Christmas Day, he is due to assist at a lunch prepared by parishioners of St John’s Cathedral for several hundred people who would otherwise be on their own or without food at Christmas.

In a pastoral letter for Advent, the Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon said: “Pope Benedict once said, ‘God made himself small, so that we could understand him, welcome him and love him’. How can we resist these feelings of love and care when we see the face of the child in the manger? But we should also remember that this is a child who cries the cry of the needy and poor.”

The Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, in his latest Advent letter, quoted Pope Francis’ desire for a poor church, adding : “We need eyes to see the needy and suffering Christ in those around us, those with whom we live and work.”

Other bishops to single out the importance of a response to poverty include the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Seamus Cunningham, and the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Kieran Conry. Commenting on the work to be undertaken by Westminster parishes for the poor over Christmas, Bishop John Arnold said: “Pope Francis has challenged us by his words and example to help the poor and needy.”

Above: Pope Francis began his 77th birthday on Tuesday by celebrating Mass and having breakfast with three men who are sleeping rough in Rome. Photo: CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters