By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholics need to ask themselves whether their communities are a “concrete sign of unity and love” or simply a group of people who happen to live near each other or, worse, a collection of folks ranked according to wealth, Pope Francis said.

“If communion is lacking, motivation wanes and bureaucracy increases,” the pope said Feb. 16 as he welcomed bishops, priests and laypeople representing most of Italy’s 227 dioceses and their programs to encourage the financial support of church activities.

Members of the early Christian community, according to the Acts of the Apostles, translated their faith “into their lives and concrete choices,” Pope Francis said, and that meant holding material goods in common, donating one’s possessions and distributing the proceeds to the poor.

“The apostolic community began to transform the world starting from the new lifestyle inspired by the Gospel,” the pope said. “Based on their talents and with what they had, everyone participated in this ‘evangelical revolution,’ which made visible to all the love taught by and given by Jesus.”

While much has changed for Christians since then, Pope Francis said, “co-responsibility and participation” by all the baptized still are the key building blocks for a church that is united and in solidarity with the poor.

“Being a member of the body of Christ inextricably binds us to the Lord and, at the same time, to one another,” he said. “In the church, no one should be just a spectator or, worse, on the margin; everyone should feel they are an active part of one big family.”

Obviously, not everyone has the same resources, talents or needs, he said. But when everyone is together, those who have the means should be honored to give and those who lack necessities should find support.

Then, he said, “in the harmony of diversity, everyone can witness to the beauty of the love that frees, that gives, that allows us to leave behind the negative dynamics of selfishness, conflict and opposition.”