BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Pope Francis is asking fellow Argentines to reach out to the poorest, not only through charity but by showing them compassion and affection.
Francis' prerecorded message was broadcast early Wednesday as thousands lined up to offer prayers for the feast day of Saint Cayetano, the patron of jobs and unemployed people.
"Today's slogan is: reach out after the neediest, those who need us to give them a hand, and look at them affectionately. Share their pain, their anxieties, and their problems," the pope said.
Pilgrims have been camping for days outside the San Cayetano sanctuary, braving the Southern Hemisphere winter to thank the saint for helping them keep a job or to pray for a new one.
Before he became Pope Francis, Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio led the main yearly Mass in homage of the patron saint for labor in Argentina for 15 years.
"Sometimes I ask people if they give out charity. 'Yes father,' they say." And I ask: 'When you hand out charity, do you look into the eyes of the person that you're helping? And they say: 'Oh, I didn't notice,'" the pope said.
"Well, then you didn't really reach out. You just threw out some change and left. If you don't come close, you didn't come into contact with that person."
Pilgrims waiting in a long line outside the sanctuary in the outskirts of Buenos Aires held photos of Francis and waved Vatican flags. Some praised the simplicity and pastoral humility of their cardinal who would become the first pope from the Americas.
"What he's saying now, he always said it while he was here. He was always inspired by humility and asked us to be humble, to give without expecting anything in return. Give until it hurts, he'd tells us," said Susana Carabajal, 71, a retiree.
"He'd arrive without notice, at 1 or 2 a.m., and he'd reach out to every pilgrim, giving each and every one a kiss."
Cayetano was an Italian priest born in 1480 into a wealthy family. He studied law and worked as diplomat under Pope Julius II. As he became increasingly worried about the poor, he shunned wealth to become ordained as a priest. He later founded a monastery that provided shelter to the needy. He died on Aug 7, 1547, and was canonized in 1671.