“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.
He met them in the 220 years old church of Saint Patrick in the nation’s capital, 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.”
When he arrived in the small Fiat 500 C that he used since his arrival in this country a great cheer went up and an atmosphere of excitement gripped those in the church as a very relaxed and smiling pope walked up the center aisle, accompanied by Cardinal Donal Wuerl, the local archbishop, and senior Vatican officials.
Significantly, he came here immediately after delivering a historic, and much applauded, address to a joint session of the United States Congress. From meeting the country’s political leaders, Francis came to spend a little time with “the nobodies” of this world, those who lack everything in life, including a roof over their head, but are helped by Catholic Charities.
He spoke to them in Spanish, which a Vatican official translated his words into English. He began by thanking the homeless “for welcoming me” and also those who had prepared this short but joyful encounter.
He went onto liken their situation to that of Saint Joseph who found himself in a difficult situation when Mary, his pregnant wife, was about to give birth to Jesus, and they had no roof over their head and there was no room for them in the inn.
“You make me think of Saint Joseph. Your faces remind me of him”, he told them. “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.
Reflecting on this Gospel story, 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. “Like Saint Joseph, you may ask: Why are we homeless, without a place to live?” 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?”
Francis, the advocate of the poor, said, “Joseph’s questions are timely even today; they accompany all those who throughout history have been, and are, homeless.” He asked questions, “but first and foremost, he was a man of faith. Faith gave Joseph the power to find light just at the moment when everything seemed dark. Faith sustained him amid the troubles of life. Thanks to faith, Joseph was able to press forward when everything seemed to be holding him back.”
He told the hundreds of homeless people sitting in front of him in church that “in the face of unjust and painful situations, faith brings us the light which scatters the darkness. As it did for Joseph, faith makes us open to the quiet presence of God at every moment of our lives, in every person and in every situation.” Then he added, “God is present in every one of you!”
Pope Francis then gave an unequivocal verdict: “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”
“There are many unjust situations—he said—but we know that God is suffering with us, experiencing them at our side. He does not abandon us.”
He told the homeless that “Jesus identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice” and he tells us this clearly: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
Aware that his words would reach a very large audience thanks to the presence of the national and international media in the church recording his ever word, Pope Francis said “Jesus keeps knocking on our doors, the doors of our lives. He doesn’t do this by magic, with special effects, with flashing lights and fireworks.” On the contrary, “Jesus keeps knocking on our door in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the faces of our neighbors, in the faces of those at our side.”
The pope then went onto highlight the importance of prayer in the face of injustices such as homelessness: “Prayer unites us. In prayer, we learn to see one another as brothers and sisters. In prayer, there are no rich and poor people, there are sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. In prayer, there is no first or second class, there is brotherhood.”
Francis explained that “it is in prayer that our hearts find the strength not to be cold and insensitive in the face of injustice. In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity.”
He concluded his encounter with the homeless by asking them if they would like to pray with him, and they shouted back, “Yes!” He proposed that he would recite the Our Father in Spanish and they in English. They did so and then he gave them his blessing.
Afterwards, Francis went out to greet more than a hundred poor people who were eating lunch, provided by Catholic Charities, under a tent in the street at the side of the church. They went ecstatic when he visited them, and after a brief greeting he imparted his blessing.
By visiting the poor and homeless in the capital city of the richest nation on earth, Francis not only highlighted the fact that here too there is a great injustice, but he also showed that the church must be close to them and help them because, as has said so many times at mass in Santa Marta—the Vatican guest house where he lives, “they are the flesh of Jesus.”
The visit to the homeless was his last public engagement in Washington D.C., before he took the plane to New York, the second stage of his journey, where he will preside at sung vespers in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and tomorrow morning will address the General Assembly of the United Nations and afterwards visit Ground Zero.