Pope Francis on Thursday will visit poor people of the city of Washington at St. Patrick’s Church as well as visiting and blessing a new chapel for nearby Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities serves 120,000 people in the Washington area. As the name implies, it’s a Catholic organization but those who receive services are not only Catholic; in fact many, if not most, are not.
And St. Patrick’s Church, dating back to 1794, is the first parish, the first Catholic church in the federal city.
The Pope will meet with the some 300 poor people served by Catholic Charities in St. Patrick’s Church, and then walk through a little alleyway into Catholic Charities’ headquarters where he will bless its chapel. Next, he will step outside to the street and greet and give a blessing to the poor gathered, and bless their food.
The communications director for Catholic Charities, Tony Burke, shared about tomorrow and then explained to ZENIT how the desire to serve others transformed his life.
“Pope Francis will give his blessing,” he said, and after that, “it’s all up to the Holy Father.”
On how the people are reacting, he assured that the excitement is widespread, and that now that the visit is upon them, it’s really sinking in.
“[Pope Francis] is so inclusive and really brings people together,” Burke reflected.
He also explained to ZENIT how Pope Francis’ words about caring for the poor have inspired him personally.
“I was in television for about 20 or 21 years. I was a news director at a sports network. I was a producer and director and had vast experience…..but, I’ve found this is my mission,” he said. “It is a labor of love to know every day I come here, to do something to help somebody that needs it most.”
“Pope Francis, more than anybody, embodies our mission, to help those who need it,” he added.
“For me,” Burke said, “Pope Francis has been a gift from God. Because he not only says what to do, but he lives it.” For Pope Francis to live and care about the poor like he does, Burke continued, is really “a marriage made in heaven.”
Burke recounted a bit about how he finds himself working with Catholic Charities. After feeling that he’d done all that he could do in the TV business, he wanted something more. The president of the aid organization, Fr. John Oakland, “took a chance on me, this ‘kid’ in television.”
Now, he said, “I’ve never been happier,” adding that he’s loved every minute of the last three and a half years.
“Even the worst day at work is the best day at work that I ever had,” he expressed. “That’s hard to do.”
Burke spoke about how much respect he has for all Pope Francis has been doing for the homeless and poor around the Vatican, including the recent installation of showers for them and giving them tours of the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. He says he can’t wait until Thursday.
Man of God
The poor, says Monsignor Salvatore Criscuolo, pastor at St. Patrick’s, realize what everyone else realizes as well: Pope Francis is truly a man of God.
While the church has had many presidents, vice presidents, and cardinals visit, Father Criscuolo said, this time it has a Pope, which is “such a great honor.”
“[People at the parish] are excited,” he said. “They know his love for the poor. They realize all he has done for the poor and are really honored he is going to be there with them on Thursday.”
The priest reaffirmed that Francis added this stop to his itinerary because he wants to meet with the less fortunate. “He wanted to meet them and bless the food they would receive that day. But when he learned there was a church, that’s when the visit really came about,” he said.
Many of the 300 people the Pope will greet tomorrow are homeless.
Sister Mary-Louise, a Sister of St. Joseph, reflected on the women and children who will meet the Pope tomorrow, after the many rough experiences they’ve endured in their lives.
For her too, she said, this moment is emotional. The Sister of St. Joseph noted how she has only heard of meeting the Holy Father vicariously, but now gets to experience it herself.
Hoping for a blessing
Overlooking the area, from the top floor of the office building across the street, a large sign welcomes Francis with “Viva Il Papa.”
Elise Forrester works behind that window at her non-profit. She shared with ZENIT that she is praying Francis catches a glimpse before entering into the doors of the church.
“I hope he looks up and gives [the sign] a blessing,” she said, noting she has all her rosaries hanging from it.
Monsignor Criscuolo, upon hearing this wish, smiled and said, “Perhaps, as I greet him, I’ll say Holy Father, look back.”