The Pope of the Peripheries

TASKMASTER. Pope Francis gets a lesson on the environment in East Harlem.

‘We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Pope Francis told hundreds of homeless people in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. He met them in the 220-year-old Church of Saint Patrick and told them, “There are many unjust situations, but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”

Significantly, the pope came for lunch with some of Washington’s homeless people immediately after delivering a historic, and much applauded, address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

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“You make me think of St. Joseph,” he told the homeless, clients of the local Catholic Charities. “I can imagine Joseph, with his wife about to have a child, with no shelter, no home, no place to stay. The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person. The Son of God knew what it was to start life without a roof over his head,” he said.

Francis told them: “We can imagine what Joseph must have been thinking. How is it that the Son of God has no home? Why are we homeless, why don’t we have housing?

“These are questions which many of you may ask daily,” he said. Indeed, “these are questions which all of us might well ask. Why do these, our brothers and sisters, have no place to live? Why are these brothers and sisters of ours homeless?”

In East Harlem on Sept. 25, Pope Francis encouraged an audience of Catholic school students and immigrants to live with joy and dare to dream. “They tell me that one of the nice things about this school is that some of its students come from other places, even from other countries,” Pope Francis told students and a group of immigrants at the Our Lady Queen of Angels school. “I know that it is not easy to have to move and find a new home, new neighbors and new friends,” the pope said.

The pope spoke of dreams and invoked another religious leader, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “One day he said, ‘I have a dream.’ His dream was that many children, many people could have equal opportunities. His dream was that many children like you could get an education,” the pope said. “Wherever there are dreams, there is joy; Jesus is always present,” he said.

While pilgrims in Philadelphia put up with a long weekend of lines and security checks at the papal venues, the pope reached out to a group of people whose lives will be hemmed in by lines and security checks for years at a time. Pope Francis spent about an hour at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on Sept. 27.

As debates continue in the United States over the need for penal reform, Pope Francis said prisons must focus on rehabilitation, and he insisted that no one is perfect and without need of forgiveness. The pope told the inmates he was visiting as a pastor, “but mostly as a brother.”

The pope spoke to the inmates about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, explaining that back in those days, people wore sandals and the roads were dusty. Everyone needed to have his or her feet cleaned.

“It is painful when we see people who think that only others need to be cleansed, purified, and do not recognize that their weariness, pain and wounds are also the weariness, pain and wounds of society,” Pope Francis continued.

The pope urged the prisoners to dedicate their time in prison to “getting back on the right road” and preparing to rejoin society.

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