Pope Francis stepped away from the pomp and pageantry of Capitol Hill to be with the poor and homeless on Thursday.
Passing on the opportunity to dine with politicians after addressing Congress this morning, Francis instead said a prayer blessing a meal for homeless clients of St. Maria's Meals, a food program run by Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.
Just before the meal, Francis drew a powerful comparison between the plight of the homeless and the Christmas story about Jesus’ birth in a stable.
“The son of God knew what it was to be a homeless person,” Francis said, during a speech at nearby St. Patrick's Catholic Church. “What it was to start life without a roof over his head.”
“I want to be very clear. We can’t find any social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever for lack of housing,” he continued. “We know that Jesus wanted to show solidarity with every person. He wanted everyone to experience his companionship, his help and his love. He identified with all those who suffer, who weep, who suffer any kind of injustice. He tells us this clearly, ‘I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’"
The St. Maria’s Meals program is a familiar sight on G street in D.C. Every Wednesday, volunteers set up tents on the sidewalk outside the Catholic Charities building and dish out hot meals to about 300 people in need.
For this week's meal, organizers shut down an entire city block to accommodate the crowd. Chefs were slated to prepare chicken and pasta dishes, along with homemade desserts. Monsignor John Enzler, CEO of Catholic Charities in D.C. told WBAL-TV they were aiming for dishes that are "easy to serve, but very healthy, very nutritious.”
The symbolic move was evidence of Francis' desire to reach out to the margins and care for the poor. Under his watch, the Vatican opened new shower facilities in St. Peter's Square where people can get free haircuts and a shave. The Vatican is also building a homeless shelter in Rome that can serve 30 people at a time.
In March, the pope's alsmgiver, who is in charge of doing charitable works on the pope's behalf, invited a group of homeless people for a private tour of the Sistine Chapel and a dinner at the Vatican museums. Pope Francis stopped by to pay the group a surprise visit, greeting each homeless man and woman individually.
The visit to Catholic Charities and to St. Patrick's Catholic Church was the last stop on Francis' itinerary in Washington, D.C. At 4 p.m., he will board a plane at Joint Base Andrews and fly to New York City, where he will address the United Nations General Assembly, participate in an interfaith service at the 9/11 memorial, visit with Catholic school students and immigrants in East Harlem, and lead Mass at Madison Square Garden.