Reaching out to those with nothing

Reaching out to those with nothing The crowd is seen on the roadway as Pope Francis blesses the cornerstone of Talitha Qum homeless shelter in Cartagena, Colombia
Pope in Ireland
Chai Brady explores why Francis is known as the ‘Pope of the poor’


When darkness falls on the city of Rome and the its homeless search for shelter and food, there’s one disguised shepherd on the streets practicing what he preaches and assisting the impoverished.

Not many people would expect a Pope to sneak out at night to assist the poor, with the many security risks this would incur, but throughout his papacy Pope Francis has always been full of surprises.

He has always shown humility. First and foremost he ditched the red shoes popularised by other Pontiffs for plain black ones, took up residence in a simple two-room apartment and the day after his election chose to be driven to the Sistine Chapel on a minibus with other clergy rather than take a chauffeur driven Vatican car.

These actions reflected to the world his deep concern for issues of social justice and his cognisance of the impoverished around the world.


In January, while addressing Chilean priests, consecrated people and seminarians during a papal visit, he said: “The problem is not feeding the poor, clothing the naked and visiting the sick, but rather recognising that the poor, the naked, the sick, prisoners and the homeless have the dignity to sit at our table, to feel ‘at home’ among us, to feel part of a family.”

“This is the sign that the Kingdom of Heaven is in our midst.  This is the sign of a Church wounded by sin, shown mercy by the Lord, and made prophetic by his call.”

Less than a week before this address, Francis offered tickets to 2,000 of Rome’s poor or homeless people, several refugees and prisoners for Medrano Circus. Food and medical personnel were also provided at the event.

On his birthday this year 3,000 gelati were given to needy and homeless people in his name, and they were distributed through soup kitchens and shelters mostly run by Catholic charities, in Rome.

Since Francis was elected in March 2013, he has lead by example, and called people not to be content and believe themselves to “be good” by not doing bad things.

Speaking at the World Day of the Poor in November 2017 in front of 4,000 people suffering poverty – who he later brought out for lunch – he said: “But to do no wrong is not enough. God is not an inspector looking for one who has not paid the ticket.

“He is a Father looking for children to whom he can entrust his assets and his projects. It is sad when the Father of love does not receive a generous response of love from his children, who limit themselves to respecting the rules and following the commandments, like hired servants in the house of the Father.”

It was Francis who established the first World Day of the Poor when he issued his Apostolic Letter, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery), in which he implored people to be merciful. The title refers to the mercy with misery Jesus grants the woman caught in adultery.


In it he said: “Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible.  Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.”

Specifically mentioning poverty he called the Church to be vigilant, saying: “Our world continues to promote new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practice them with generosity and enthusiasm.”

During his ministry he has always been very hands on, embracing homeless people and having conversations with them. Before the beginning of Lent last year he said in an interview – with a magazine serving homeless and marginalised people – that when encountering those who live on the street, he greets them and sometimes asks them about their lives.

He always chatted with a homeless family and couple that lived next to the archbishop’s residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and never considered making them move.

It’s important to be sincere, because people who live on the streets understand right away when the other person is really interested in them as a person or when they just feel pity, he said.

“One can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or else as if he were a dog, and they notice this different way of looking,” he said.

It is well documented that Pope Francis will privately visit the Capuchin Day Centre on August 25 at 4.30pm. Visiting sanctuaries for the homeless and poor has been a recurrent practice for him wherever he goes.

Founder of the Capuchin Day Centre, Bro. Kevin Crowley OFM Cap. – who has been working with those experiencing homelessness for decades – said after it was confirmed: “I feel it shows great respect and great concern for them [service users].”

He added that “it shows that he has a great love for the homeless and unprivileged people”. Eighty homeless people are expected to be present for the Pontiff’s visit. During the encounter Francis is expected to share a meal as well as listen to the experiences of homelessness of those present.

With Ireland experiencing a homeless crisis on epic proportions, and a recent report by property website Daft for the second quarter of 2018 revealing the average rent in Ireland is now €1,300 – up by €274 from the last peak in 2008 – it is now more than ever that a visit by Pope Francis may serve to highlight the importance of caring and humanising the poor in order to fight a growing epidemic.