Pope releases Lent message: The real poor are those who consider themselves rich

Pope Francis: The illusion of our omnipotence can also be seen in the sinful structures linked to a model of false development based on the idolatry of moneyReuters

Pope Francis' message for Lent 2016 has today been released by the Vatican.

The Pontiff focuses on mercy and attacks those "who consider themselves rich" in a message entitled "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9.13).

He opens by discussing how God's "love story" with his people "culminates in the incarnation of God's Son". However, Francis then goes on to criticise those he describes as the "real poor".

"God's mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn," he says.

"In the light of this love, which is strong as death (cf. Song 8:6), the real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such.

"They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars.

"The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow."

Francis emphasises tangible experience of mercy in his message and the "concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours".

He writes: "In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.

"The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated. By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need," he adds.

The key aspect of the Pope's message is his focus on proactive actions to benefit the poor, because, he says, "on such things will we be judged".

"For in the poor, the flesh of Christ 'becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled... to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us'," he writes, quoting from his Papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus.

However, there is also a subtle reaffirmation of his opposition to same-sex marriage, with a reference to the relationship between "marriage and family relationships" and mercy.

Francis also uses the message to reiterate his intention to send out "missionaries of mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God's closeness and forgiveness".

These missionaries will be priests sent out on Ash Wednesday all over the world to forgive sins, including transgressions such as abortion, which is usually reserved for high-ranking officials to absolve. 

You can read the full text of the Pope's message here.