The Catholic Church is charged with caring for souls, but Pope Francis has reminded us over and over again of the importance of caring for bodily needs as well. The latest example of this commitment was launched March 1, when the Vatican opened a free health clinic in an effort to minister to those in Rome who cannot afford medical care. The clinic, conceived of by Pope Francis and managed by the Vatican almoner, is staffed by doctors from the Supportive Medical Association and a local hospital. The clinic follows several efforts by the Vatican to practice the corporal works of mercy. It has already set up dormitories, showers and a barbershop for people who are homeless. The latest effort serves as a reminder that health care is a human right and should be available to all, not simply to those wealthy enough to afford it. These projects also demonstrate that aid to those in need requires a multifaceted and sustained commitment.
Fortunately, individuals hoping to make a similar commitment to the works of mercy need not travel to the Vatican. The church has considerable experience with reaching out to those on the margins. Local, national and international efforts, including organizations like the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Jesuit Refugee Service and many others have for years worked to meet the needs of people living in poverty and continue to offer opportunities or ideas for getting involved. Especially in this Year of Mercy, let us make every effort to venture to the margins, to serve and, in modeling Christ’s service to others, to see his face in everyone we meet.