Pope Francis embraces Washington’s hungry: ‘No justification for homelessness’

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Pope Francis visits with homeless who are served meals by Catholic charities, in Washington, DC, on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Pool
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-HOMELESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis visits with homeless who are served meals by Catholic charities, in Washington, DC, on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-HOMELESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

A man sleeps on a sculpture of a figure called 'Homeless Jesus' in front of the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Charities offices in Washington, on September 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-HOMELESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

A man sleeps on a sculpture of a figure called “Homeless Jesus” in front of the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Charities offices in Washington on Sept. 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CHARITY, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Pope Francis went straight from charging the U.S. Congress to care for the neediest to blessing and encouraging Washington’s hungry and homeless on Thursday (Sept. 24).

Still, Francis, wearing his cross showing a shepherd and his flock, carried a political message along with his pastoral mission.

“The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person,” he told staff and clients of Catholic Charities, at St. Patrick’s in the City’s ministry to the needy.

“The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head,” he said, speaking in Spanish.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson

Click the logo for more Religion News Service coverage of the pope’s visit to the U.S.

Francis told them that while “we can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing … we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”

And he assured them that all are equal in prayer. “Faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation. God is present in every one of you, in each one of us.”


READ:  ‘Walk with Francis Pledge’ urges Washingtonians to do a good deed ahead of papal trip


Pope Francis visits with homeless who are served meals by Catholic charities, in Washington, DC, on September 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Pool *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-HOMELESS, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

Pope Francis visits with homeless who are served meals by Catholic charities, in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Pool
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-CHARITY, originally transmitted on Sept. 24, 2015.

At the adjacent headquarters of Catholic Charities, the pope  paused briefly to bless the agency’s chapel and moved out to the moment that may have been the real highlight of the shepherd’s day — greeting the homeless clients who come there weekly for a meal from St. Maria’s Meals Program.

The location is marked by a statue known as the “Homeless Jesus” — identified by the nails in the statue’s feet, said Monsignor John Enzler, president of Catholic Charities at the Archdiocese of Washington. The poor call it “our Washington monument, our sign of dignity,” he said.

The street-side soup kitchen was set up with 55 white tablecloth-covered tables and floral centerpieces where families were served a hot lunch. There, Francis blessed little children, posed for selfies and, with open arms and a smile, called out “Buon appetito!”


READ: Pope Francis to Congress: ‘Stop fighting, start working!’


The mobs of dignitaries and media that usually crowd the pope were mostly kept at bay, although Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, was there.

“The pope made it very clear this is a pastoral event,” at which he could walk with people and come in close for hugs and handshakes, said Enzler.

National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters noticed that the pope could have lingered with the nation’s elite. But, “like Jesus, he chose to seek out the powerless and the poor. Like Jesus, he seemed to be more joyful at the latter destination.”

Francis has directly taken up care for the homeless and the refugee back in Rome.


READ: Pope Francis to open 30-bed homeless shelter a few steps from Vatican walls


He recently called on every European parish to support at least one family from the hundreds of thousands fleeing the Middle East and North African violence, and Vatican City has already taken in a family from Damascus.

And in February, he asked that showers be set up for homeless people under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican’s charity office also began offering haircuts and shaves by professional volunteers, as part of the shower service.

LM/MG END GROSSMAN

  • “Francis told them..’We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing…”

    Francis ignores the silver bullet! :
    All Atheist Scandinavian countries have solved homelessness
    And poverty
    And free healthcare
    And free housing
    And free education
    And free social services
    And free mental health
    While remaining happy, healthy and prosperous. How did they do this?
    >>> Through the liberation and empowerment of women<<<
    Yet the Pope (indeed all religions) completely oppose women’s rights. That is the problem – no contraception! There is no morality in his argument.

    “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition..” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)

    So the Pope discards Atheist Scandinavian HUMANISM without a thought. And that is a moral outrage.

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  • Tracy

    Atheist Max,

    I don’t know what you mean, that the Pope “discard(s) Atheist Scandinavian Humanism.” I’ve heard him say, repeatedly, things like, “I appeal to those of faith, and other “people of goodwill,” and today, when he asked for prayers, he specifically said, “if you can’t or don’t believe, please send good thoughts my way.” What else would you like him to do? He’s also been critical of a church that has shut in on itself.

    That said, I disagree with the Pope’s view of women, abortion, and about lgbt issues. I’d like him to be an advocate for contraception as well. But I don’t need to be blind to the many beautiful things he has said, and to his willingness to reach out to those who don’t agree with him on everything. Happily, I can also join (or not) other religious people who have other ideas about women; women as leaders, and women as full moral subjects, able to decide for themselves what to do with their bodies. See “The Religious Coalition for…

  • Tracy

    “The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights,” whose existence indicates that religion must not always work against the interests of women.

  • @Tracy,

    “What else would you like him to do?”
    The church is outdated beyond repair.
    1. Women are most directly damaged by the Pope’s message. That is 50% of the population! He’s against all contraception, women’s freedom to escape miserable marriages and he is against all proven healthy sexuality including masturbation.
    2. He needs to hand over Cardinal Bernard Law to international authorities for his role as kingpin of the Boston pedophile priest network – an ongoing affront to justice for 25,000 KNOWN cases of child rape.
    3. The US government should not be permitting him to speak to Congress – there is no evidence for the superstitious product he is selling; namely ‘god’.
    4. Religion is bad for people and society no matter how cloaked it is in emotionally comforting pablum. Religion is peddling dangerous nonsense whether he knows it or not..

    “Kill them” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    Americans don’t need this.

  • Jack

    The pope has a great heart on refugees. He’s absolutely correct on that matter, and he and others need to counter some of the fear-mongering out there about terrorism and all the rest.

    But on how to fight poverty, his simplistic socialism along with the Catholic Church’s tendencies to equate poverty with virtue blind him to real solutions that actually get people out of poverty.

    Here again is where sensible Catholic laypeople can educate their clergy on how economics work in the real world, so when they speak about wealth and poverty, they will sound more like mature, thinking adults.

    This is the big Achilles heel of Catholic social policy and groups like the Acton Institute need to do a better job educating clergy on the free enterprise system.

  • larry

    Are you kidding me?

    The Catholic Church has assets and commercial interests far greater than many multi-national corporations. They know very well how economics work. Its served them well for centuries. They know what wealth and poverty are.

    Now you have criticized governments for being ineffective in dealing with poverty. claiming that charities, especially those of large churches are more effective for handling the job. If they are as effective as you claimed them to be, then they already have far greater handle on the situation than your post suggests.

    So either you are just being smug and condescending to the Pontiff and the organization he heads or your claim of the effectiveness of religious charity was just so much hot air.

  • Betty Clermont

    The DC archdiocese lists $123 million in net assets on its financial report for 2014 and total revenues of $95.6 million. Of that, Cardinal Donald Wuerl gave $254,000 to Catholic Charities in 2014 while U.S. taxpayers provided $32 million. This is usual. The Economist estimated that of the total expenditures by “the US Church and entities” just 2.7% goes to charity and 62% of the income of its charitable activities “came from local, state and federal government agencies.”
    More important than the Church taking credit for tax-payer funding, they act against those same tax-payer’s. According to a Bush administration Office of Legal Counsel memo on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), faith-based organizations can discriminate in hiring. “This means that a faith-based organization that receives government funds to provide secular social services can exclude qualified candidates from jobs that their tax money subsidizes simply because they are not the ‘right religion.'”

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    We make our sisters and brothers homeless and cover ourselves with shame.

  • Shawnie5

    Except no one from those “atheist Scandinavian” countries would characterize their country as atheist. Regardless of their personal faith or lack thereof, they know the roots of their culture, laws and institutions.

    And “empowerment of women” depends on how you define it. If you define it as equality or near-equality in earning power and career success, Scandinavia isn’t much of an exemplar.

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  • Larry

    Scandinavian countries have their own problems. I hate it when people use them as examples.

    They have very low population densities.

    Moribund economies from a diversity and growth standpoint.

    They import tons of labor from abroad. People whom the various social safety net (or even civil liberties at times) do not apply to.

    Don’t spend much money on their own defense, relying mostly on NATO allies.

    That being said, there is no example of countries entangled with churches (in the general term, not just Christian) that have ever done squat for poverty. In all cases, the church supports the status quo and society elite. The Pope’s own nation Argentina is notorious for its Church being in league with brutal dictators and ruling families of its past.

  • Shawnie5

    “That being said, there is no example of countries entangled with churches (in the general term, not just Christian) that have ever done squat for poverty.”

    That would include Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Great Britain…

  • Jack

    Larry, do you really think the pope & cardinals are the ones investing Vatican money? Do you think they get together and discuss asset allocation, rebalancing portfolios, indexing vs. active management, or fundamental vs. technical analysis? Please.

    Or on economics, do you really think they discuss the Keynesian vs. supply-side or Austrian schools? Do you think they even care to know how economies work? Most combine a childish socialism with pre-modern views that assume wealth equals land or a finite pile of money & thus if one person has more, others must have less.

    As for nonprofit faith-based groups fighting poverty, that’s a completely separate issue. You don’t need to know anything about wealth production to know how to empower people in need. You can be a nonprofit whose economic views are to the left of Marx and you’ll still do a far better job than government as a social service provider.

  • Bob

    Don’t forget to include “mommie dearest” Mother Theresa in your calculations. What a beotch.

  • Bob

    The Catholic church has among the highest overhead of “charitable” organizations going. Huge, unnecessary overhead, and with awful strings attached. It’s a terrible route to helping the poor.

  • Bob

    Christianity is shameful, and all about shame.

  • Ben in oakland

    “Regardless of their personal faith or lack thereof, they know the roots of their culture, laws and institutions.”

    So you do admit after all that Christianity was responsible for the re-emergence and promulgation of slavery, and not just its abolition.

    Good to know.

  • Shawnie5

    Those countries had repudiated slavery centuries before. The re-emergence of it had far more to do with profiteers and colonials venturing out beyond the boundaries of the church’s power and influence. It required the First and Second Great Awakenings to finish it off the second time.

    But how about you weigh in on the subject at hand? Do you subscribe to the assertion offered by Larry that nations “entangled with churches” have done nothing about poverty?

    A certain atheist with far more integrity than any of the sad specimens available today fingered Christianity and its obsession with charity and enabling “the weak” for robbing pagan Europe of its vitality which was nourished by the healthy and entirely natural will to power. Agree?

  • Jack

    I suppose that would sound clever if an eight-year-old uttered it, but a half century or more down the road? Well….not quite. It’s on the level of making paper airplanes.

    But more to the point, the post suggests more about you than about Christianity…..too bad you’re evidently so hung up about shame.