Compassion

“I saw the person before I saw his or her poverty. And I realized that the person who is hungry, abandoned or in need is first of all a heart who needs to find another heart; someone who will listen, understand and love. People who are poor and discouraged need to hear someone say to them, “I love you. I have confidence in you. You are beautiful. You can give life to others.” This helps them find confidence in themselves, new strength, new hope. The poor do not need to hear a lot of words, not even pious words. They may need people who will do things for them. Above all they need friendship: friends who love them and are willing to do things with them. This will help them grow and develop both humanly and spiritually.”

– Jean Vanier, ‘An Ark for the Poor’, p.57

Compassion is one of the core values of our faith. The English word comes from Latin, where it literally means “to suffer with”. In Hebrew, the word most often translated as “compassion” has its roots in the word “womb”. In Greek, it means “to be moved in the center of one’s being”.

In theological terms, compassion is what God feels toward the universe. When we suffer, God suffers. God holds us and tenderly cares for us like a pregnant mother cares for the child in her womb. The very heart of God is stirred by the reality of need and pain. When we suffer, we do not suffer alone.

When we human beings recognize and respond in love to the needs and pain of our fellow creatures, we are echoing the divine compassion. Acting with compassion allows us to become the hands and feet of God in the world.

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