WASHINGTON — For many, the pope symbolizes understanding, sympathy, hope and recognition. This is especially true for Pope Francis, who has made service to the less fortunate the hallmark of his papacy.
That attitude is embedded in the schedule of his visit to the United States. While in Philadelphia, he will be ministering to prison inmates.
Here in Washington, Pope Francis will head straight from a joint session of Congress to serving the homeless outside Catholic Charities.
“I never thought he’d come down here,” says a woman who goes by Kitty.
Each Wednesday evening Kitty stands on the sidewalk of G Street as St. Maria’s Meals sets up outside Catholic Charities in Chinatown to serve hot meals to the homeless. The pope will be visiting the charity, along with adjacent St. Patrick’s Church, on Sept. 24th. He is expected to bless the food and possibly serve alongside the volunteers.
“Here’s a guy who around the world he mimics what Christ wants us to do and just to be there next to him and watch him doing it – it would be breathtaking,” says volunteer Chris Thomas. “You know, something you will always remember and can always hold true for the rest of your life and just to be able to touch so many people here and see their faces.”
On Wednesday evening, the line for St. Maria’s Meals stretched down the block as the homeless and those in need waited for a blessing before being served chili-mac, salad, potatoes and some dessert. Among those serving was a group of students from Blessed Sacrament School in D.C.
“It feels really good to help other people who don’t have a lot, and it’s nice to serve them food and give them what they don’t have,” says 13-year-old Julia.
It’s help that doesn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s a big blessing for people to care and love for us like they do,” says Machello, one of the homeless people served by St. Maria’s Meals.
But service is a two-way relationship, as those who serve often receive as much as those being served.
“There’s so much turmoil going on,” says volunteer Larry Lazo. “As much negativity as there is in the world and as much suffering as there is, it’s impossible to help everybody, but you can start by helping your own little corner of your community and it starts here with the homeless.”
Lazo may be one of the chosen volunteers who gets to serve alongside the pope.
“I would be overjoyed, it would be wonderful to be part of it, but if my name isn’t called I’m perfectly fine with that,” says Lazo. “The effort, the movement, is bigger than just one event, but it would be wonderful to be a part of it and it would certainly be a life-long memory.”
During the visit, G Street will be closed to traffic between 9th and 10th streets. Tables will be set up in the middle of the street for the homeless clients and the possibility exists that Pope Francis will serve and eat alongside the homeless. It’s a possibility that gives Kitty some hope.
“That’ll be like talking to God for most people out here, that he could do something to help,” says Kitty.