Philadelphia's homeless and needy population should be top-of-mind during Pope Francis' visit; photo via Sharada Prasad CS, and courtesy of Project HOME.

Philadelphia's homeless and needy population should be top-of-mind during Pope Francis' visit; photo via Sharada Prasad CS, and courtesy of Project HOME.

Sister Mary Scullion: Pope Francis’ visit should focus Philly on the ‘stain on the city’ (guest column)

Sister Mary Scullion is Executive Director of Project HOME, a nationally recognized nonprofit in Philadelphia. She co-chairs the Hunger and Homelessness Committee of the World Meeting of Families.

It is now less than two months before Pope Francis arrives in Philadelphia.

The buzz in our community is enormous, not only because this will be a massive civic event for our city, but also because this dynamic pope has seized the imagination of millions around the globe – Catholic and non-Catholic alike, religious and non-religious. This is in large part because he has spoken out so forcibly about those who are poor and suffering.

He reminds us: “In a world where there is so much wealth… it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.

In the depths of our humanity, all of us hear this cry, and it calls forth from us our truest selves. Pope Francis has given us a gift by urging us to refocus on poverty and struggle, both in its global and local forms. He is inviting us to tap the wellsprings of compassion and goodness within us, and he is urging us to re-envision our societies along the lines of justice and human dignity.

This is a message that our city needs to hear. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among the nation’s biggest cities. Despite remarkable progress in so many fronts, the persistence of poverty, hunger and homelessness is a stain on the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.

Last month, at the World Meeting of Popular Movements in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, Pope Francis spoke powerfully about the urgent need for real structural change in a world of injustice. He called for an “economy at the service of peoples,” in which “human beings and nature must not be at the service of money… A just economy must create the conditions for everyone to be able to enjoy a childhood without want, to develop their talents when young, to work with full rights during their active years and to enjoy a dignified retirement as they grow older.”

Many of us believe that this pope, who is not one to mince words, will have a similar message when he comes to the United States in September. That’s why we have organized our Mercy and Justice campaign. His presence in this country represents an historic opportunity. We need to ensure that the events surrounding his visit are not just lots of pomp and ceremony – but real concrete action that takes seriously his fervent challenge to compassion, human dignity, and the common good.

That’s why we have sent every member of Congress a statement titled “A Time For Mercy and Justice: Pope Francis and the Common Good in the United States,” which outlines both the urgency of this moment and key elements of a just society, including affordable housing for all citizens. We are urging our national leaders, in light of the Pope’s visit to our country, to develop a bipartisan legislative agenda that will meet the needs of our sisters and brothers struggling with hunger, homelessness and poverty.

Our elected officials need to hear from thousands of constituents around the country, urging them to support the Mercy and Justice agenda. To send a message directly to both your senators, your congressional representative, and to the White House, go to www.mercyandjustice.org/action. And spread the word: Send this action link to your friends, colleagues, and communities. Do all you can to generate as many messages to Congress as possible.

We must seize this moment. The vision of Pope Francis reminds all of us, whether we belong to religious traditions or not, that the ancient call for compassion and justice is in truth an invitation to us to a fullness of life and a richness of human community. As we meet the needs of those in poverty, we are healing ourselves and our nation. As we ensure that all families have enough to eat, we are building the banquet table for everyone.  As we work to provide healthcare and quality education to all, we are making our whole society healthier and wiser.

As we bring those living on our streets home, we are finding our own way home. Because none of us are home until all of us are home. Last week Pope Francis told participants of the World Meeting of Popular Movement, “The globalization of hope, a hope which springs up from peoples and takes root among the poor, must replace the globalization of exclusion and indifference!” This is our work, as well.  Let us seize this important historic moment and bring that hope to life here in the United States.  Let us build a society of inclusion and caring. Let us act for mercy and seek justice.

Mercy and Justice takes to the streets – join us for a “Pope-Up” next Tuesday, August 11, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM.  We’ll be at three sites in Center City – 17th and Chestnut, LOVE Park, and Rittenhouse Square.

For more on the campaign, go to www.mercyandjustice.org.

×