In Philly, a reminder that combatting poverty is also a family issue

Categories: Nation/World,Papal visit,World Meeting of Families

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Photo by Joe Towalski

Joe Towalski, editor of The Visitor, is traveling with the diocesan pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

By Joe Towalski
The Visitor

As you can imagine, the World Meeting of Families, with its approximately 20,000 participants from more than 100 countries, is a good venue for vendors selling WMF and papal souvenirs, as well as those trying to reach people on the streets outside the convention center with their messages about the Catholic Church.

Not all the messages are friendly to the church. But on my short jaunts to and from our tour bus, I’ve encountered several men in yellow vests that are trying to do something good for those in need. They’re handing out a special papal visit edition of a newspaper for a $1 contribution. Being a newspaper guy, I took one.

The newspaper, called One Step Away, is produced “by those without homes for those with homes.” The $1 donation goes to the vendor, with the overall goal being to help men, women and families to escape homelessness and give them hope for a better life.

I chatted briefly with one of the vendors, Zachary, who has worked with One Step Away for about a year and has used the income to get his own housing. He isn’t Catholic but described himself as a Christian who is hopeful that Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, including Philadelphia, will have a positive effect on the fight against poverty and homelessness.

The pope has certainly said positive things about the need to tackle these issues, Zachary said. And the papal edition of One Step Away addresses the topic, highlighting papal quotes with statistics in an article titled, “The ‘People’s Pope’ in the U.S. and Philly: What influence can Pope Francis have on the ‘Land of Opportunity’ and the ‘City of Brotherly Love’?”


Photo by Joe Towalski

For example, on housing, there’s this well-known Pope Francis quote: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

The quote is paired with this statistic: As many as 3.5 million U.S. citizens experiences homelessness each year. On a single night in Philadelphia, about 5,000 people experience homelessness. I’ve seen a few of them outside the convention center.

And, on education, the pope has said: “We have to create the material and spiritual conditions for [young people’s] full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.”

The reality, however, is that Philadelphia’s public schools have a 65 percent graduation rate and only about 10 percent of alumni go on to get degrees, according to the article.

Poverty is most certainly a family issue that all of us need to address with more commitment and determination. Pope Francis will likely have a few things to say about that during his time in the U.S.

Please pray for the pilgrims — from our diocese and the 20,000 others — at the World Meeting of Families. May we all be renewed in our efforts on behalf of human dignity, helping families, including helping those in poverty, to build new lives of hope and opportunity.