Pope Francis’ visit to homeless men and women in Washington, D.C., was “life-changing,” said the head of Catholic Charities in the nation’s capital.
He added that many of those who met the Pope described the event as validating their dignity and showing them the presence of God.
Along with every major speech to a political body during his U.S. visit, Pope Francis also paid a visit to the poor or vulnerable, noted Monsignor John Enzler, CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., who hosted Pope Francis.
This was “a juxtaposition of, if you will, power and richness and big voice and money and prestige versus no voice, no money, no prestige, powerless,” he told CNA.
Yet the Pope treated both audiences “exactly the same,” and he even “seemed to be more engaged with those who did not have than with those who did.”
The homeless loved his personal outreach to them, Msgr. Enzler remarked. They said they could “feel the Spirit of God there,” he recalled, and one homeless person in attendance said, “I feel like I’m legitimate now,” and “I feel like I have dignity.”
During his visit to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 24, the Pope addressed the U.S. Congress inside the Capitol building, then traveled straight over to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in downtown Washington, D.C. to meet with clients of Catholic Charities, including immigrants, the homeless, and persons with disabilities and mental illness.
Entering the church, the Holy Father slowly proceeded up the main aisle, greeting many of those in attendance before spending a few moments in prayer at a side altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Pope Francis then talked to those in attendance about homelessness, noting, “The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person, and praising St. Joseph as “a support and an inspiration.”
“To me it was a huge reminder for our whole country and all of us that there’s a whole culture of people out there who are sometimes forgotten, and we dare not forget them as part of our mission,” Msgr. Enzler said.
The Pope then walked next door to Catholic Charities, blessed the chapel, and was presented with a 400-page book listing all the pledges made to “Walk With Francis.” This popular campaign was led by Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington, asking people to pledge an act of prayer, service, or advocacy in solidarity with the papal visit.
The initiative hit 100,000 pledges on Sept. 23, the first full day of Francis’ visit to the U.S. The pontiff viewed the pledges briefly with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., and reportedly wanted the book with him on the plane ride to New York City later that day to look through it further.
Pope Francis then walked out the front door to meet with homeless clients of Catholic Charities at their weekly lunch program. He offered no lengthy prayer but simply blessed the food and said “Buon appetito!”
The homeless people present received the Pope with such enthusiasm, it was like a “mosh pit,” Msgr. Enzler said, adding that the Secret Service couldn’t do a thing about it. “Well we just lost him,” one agent was overheard saying.
Pope Francis had desired to be closer to the crowds on his D.C. trip, but hadn’t gotten many opportunities to do so, the monsignor noted. However, he got that chance on the Catholic Charities visit.
“I probably heard from 50 people who shook his hand, whom he said to ‘please pray for me,’ whom he talked to briefly. He really did engage people,” Msgr. Enzler said.
By Matt Hadro