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Among those discarded in society

From the centre of politics to the centre of charity. On Thursday, the Pope travelled — surrounded by thousands of people lining the streets — from Capitol Hill to the Parish of St Patrick’s where he met with 200 homeless men and women for his last stop in Washington.

It was meaningful moment during the Pope’s visit to the United States. The Parish of St Patrick’s — the oldest in Washington, DC and among the oldest in the country — was founded in 1794 for the mostly Irish stone who were building the White House and Capitol building, and today it has more than two centuries of experience assisting the needy. Work which has intensified in recent years, thanks to new buildings constructed on newly-acquired land. Among the programs which have a home in these new buildings is St Maria’s Meals, created to feed the numerous individuals and families in need. It is a well-known service which guarantees meals to more than 120,000 people per year, as Cardinal Donald Wuerl underlined in his greeting to the Pope.

On arriving Francis was welcomed by Msgr Salvatore Criscuolo and by several hundreds of people, including the homeless, who greeted him warmly. For once these homeless men and women were the centre of the media attention. An occasion for visibility, offered to them by the Pope who always calls attention to those who society ‘discards’. Francis shook many hands and there were many eyes full of emotion, searching for a glance, a word of comfort or a blessing.

The Pope listened to them — many in Spanish — and gathered their intentions and responded to those who asked for encouragement or a blessing. After delivering his address, the Holy Father walked to the building next door, home to St Maria’s Meals, to bless the new chapel on the ground level. Then he went to the courtyard where the meal was about to be served to greet and bless those present.

With this encounter the Pope paid tribute to the charitable efforts of the Catholic associations in the country. Every year nearly 88 million people (one out of 6 people are treated in 645 Catholic hospitals, and another 5 million are assisted in 438 health centres. There are 105 homes which house more than 18,000 children and another 90,000 people are assisted in 853 day centres. According to data from 2014, 8.5 million people were assisted by 177 agencies of Catholic Charities. Also in 2014 Catholic Charities assisted 325,000 immigrants and 70,000 refugees.

Later that afternoon the Pontiff travelled on American Airlines from Andrews Air Force Base to New York.

Gaetano Vallini

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St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 14, 2018

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