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Friday, October 21, 2016

Wouldn’t it be grand if Pope Francis could be a recurring visitor to the U.S. Congress, a sort of spiritual superintendent who occasionally drops in to chide, cajole, and mostly just remind our legislators when their actions don’t promote the common good? What kind of country would we become?

Watching as the pontiff stepped away from the podium after his electrifying speech to Congress, I wanted the effect to stick. I wanted to see Democrats and Republicans get off their high horses and cooperate on restoring the health and prosperity of the nation. I wanted our elected officials to stop acting merely as the “political class” and instead legislate as men and women of conscience.

I know I’m not alone. A lot of reasonable people in this country wish the pope’s short visit would usher in such an era.

But with his visit to Capitol Hill complete, the pope drove off in his little Fiat, en route to greet the people nearest his heart: the poor and homeless. At St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Washington, he spoke to and looked in the faces of the least among us at a Catholic Charities free lunch for more than 200. It was a sharp contrast to his prior errand. And yet there is a role for government at this table, too.

“Why are we homeless?” Francis asked. “Why don’t we have housing? These are questions which many of you may ask daily.”

Then, he added, “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing.”

Is that clear enough for you? There is no justification whatsoever, and yet homelessness persists — thrives, actually — in this rich and powerful nation. Why?

Unwind the life of virtually any homeless man, woman or child and you may see personal failure or family failure. More likely you will see challenges that people can’t handle by themselves: mental illness, domestic violence, catastrophic job loss, poverty. No one sets out in life wanting to be homeless. No one should be trapped in homelessness, even as a consequence of poor choices.

That they continue to be is an indictment of a society that sanctions discarding — a word Francis often uses — those it finds inconvenient.

It’s also a failure of government. Just as you can track the problems along a person’s road to homelessness, you can track policy maker’s failure — or is it refusal? — to respond. The story of homelessness is a story of policy failure: shortfalls in vision and funding of public education, investment in neighborhoods, job training, access to healthcare (especially mental), affordable treatment for addictions of alcohol and drugs, and treatment for PTSD-afflicted veterans after they fight our wars.

Those are all issues that Congress has an impact on, for better or worse.

The pope’s arrival in the U.S. overshadowed a national headline on homelessness out of Los Angeles. City leaders declared a “state of emergency” because the number of homeless people setting up encampments has grown to an estimated 26,000.

In other words, the homeless have become too numerous to ignore.

So an announcement was made that $100 million would be shoveled at programs, which not surprisingly have yet to be FULLY outlined. That’s because there are no easy answers.

The skyrocketing costs of housing, and the lack of affordable options, are significant factors in why homelessness has grown by 12 percent in Los Angeles in the past two years. But affordable housing is an issue in virtually every American city.

The uneven way the economy is recovering from the recession is another complicating factor. Congress and the president approved bailouts and other deals for some, but that didn’t benefit everyone in the long run. How the U.S. rebuilds its economy will determine who and how many land on our streets in the future.

A central moral teaching of virtually every faith is the responsibility to feed the poor. Yet charity alone is not a solution. We have an obligation as a society, through the policies of our governments, to create the conditions and opportunities for all to house, feed and clothe themselves and their families.

Any honest assessment of homelessness apportions blame and responsibility in many directions. Like the stalemates of Congress, homelessness didn’t begin recently, and it continues through inaction or misdirected action from many, many quarters.

Day by day, struggle by struggle, people fall into being homeless through their own faults and from circumstances they did not create.

There but for the grace of God goes each of us.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at [email protected])

Photo: Pope Francis blesses a schoolchild upon departure from the Vatican Embassy in Washington on the third day of his first visit to the United States on September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • bckrd1

    And after this momentous speech, the GOP passed a bill this…shitting on the environment

    • bcarreiro

      I believe congress needs a housekeeper not a speaker. All the same rhetoric and not enough emphasis on what truly matters.

  • Carolyn1520

    “Wouldn’t it be grand if Pope Francis could be a recurring visitor to the U.S. Congress, a sort of spiritual superintendent who occasionally drops in to chide, cajole, and mostly just remind our legislators when their actions don’t promote the common good? What kind of country would we become?”

    I admire the pope and appreciate his attempts to make the world a better place.

    However I don’t think it would be grand for him to be a recurring visitor to the US Congress. In fact, hell no. Spiritual guidance is a choice and always has been in this country. While the spirit of the golden rule is present in the bible, it’s not a bible verse.

    It’s a code of decency and civility that all people can embrace which is . I’m sure why he chose it as his theme.
    I don’t want religious leaders from ANY faith becoming regular visitors in the operation of our government for what I think are obvious reasons.

    • paulyz

      We have had the Reverand Billy Graham for our spiritual leader before Congress for decades.

      • Carolyn1520

        No he was not “OUR” spiritual leader. He was a spiritual advisor to a couple presidents in the distant past. Like I said, it’s a choice and a personal one. Every elected official has the same right to practice their religion or not to practice it, as everyone else does. NO elected official has the right to choose one for the masses.

        • paulyz

          Distant past? EVERY President since WWII met with Rev. Billy Graham, even Obama. So who is the Socialist’s spiritual leader?

          • Carolyn1520

            Meeting with any religious leader doesn’t mean he was their spiritual leader Presidents meet with lots of them from every faith. BTW Reagan also has an astrologer which is not a Christian thing and frowned upon. 🙂
            I don’t know which Socialist you are inquiring about. However, it really doesn’t matter because everyone’s religion is a personal choice and no one else’s business nor are my beliefs any of their business. On religion, keeping it to yourself is always a good rule. Once you put it out there those who call themselves devout . start judging. That’s the real reason they want to know 😀

          • paulyz

            From the very beginning, our founding was about expressing Christian beliefs, the Constitutional Congress was started with Christian prayers, and the Colonies Constitutions were based on Christian Principles. Of course they didn’t force it on anyone, but that was the standard on which our Country was based.

          • Carolyn1520

            “The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
            –John Adams

            This from Thomas Jefferson in an April 11, 1823, letter to John Adams:

            “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. … But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding….”

            There are many many more examples of how very wrong you are but feelings and fears, not facts, rule you.

          • paulyz

            I had already, previously responded to your quoting of Jefferson & Adams with another quote of his, but you repeat this one.

          • Carolyn1520

            Mine are in response to your erroneous claim :
            “From the very beginning, our founding was about expressing Christian beliefs…”

  • Did you listen to his entire speech or just the parts you agreed with? He spoke of the joining of a man and a woman as the basis of a civilized society. He also mentioned the sanctity of all life, including life in the womb.
    Liberals only hear what they want to hear.

    • Carolyn1520

      Really? Where can I find a direct quote on that? I didn’t hear all his speeches so I could have missed the first one and I didn’t hear him mention life in the womb once either.
      Are you also guilty of spinning what he said into what you wanted to hear?

    • paulyz

      You are exactly right. The Pope clearly mentions the importance of families & marriage between one man & one woman, the importance of ALL lives, including the life in the womb, personal responsibility, & that homosexuality is wrong. The Left singling out climate change while ignoring most of the Pope’s other messages is the height of political propaganda. The U.S. certainly is most humane, allowing more Legal Immigrants while absorbing Millions of ILLEGALS, which has reached the point of serious problems for our own Citizens. We also send Billions in foreign aid. Why won’t the Pope or the Media bring up these truths & criticize those many nations that do little or nothing for humanity?

      • Carolyn1520

        ALL lives means exactly that. The right, in the same way they cherry pick verses from the bible and interpret them to fit their narrative,is doing the same with the words of the Pope. He’s the Pope and Catholic . I EXPECT him to espouse his beliefs about same sex marriage and abortion and birth control. That was nothing new or surprising. ALL religion is nothing but a leap of faith and guided by a set of man made rules. Therefore it’s opinion and based on nothing rooted in fact.
        I took his words on his religious beliefs as those spoken to members of his church. I don’t belong to his church so his opinions and that rule book do not apply to me. I think the Golden Rule applies to all people.

  • Dominick Vila

    As powerful and relevant as Pope Francis message of hope was, and his call for a more compassionate and accepting society was, the sad truth is that it only resonated and meant something for those predisposed to share his views. With the possible exception of Marco Rubio, I doubt his message made a dent on any of the GOP candidates running for the nomination of the Republican party, I doubt it will make a difference in the determination of Tea Party activists to replace Speaker Boehner with someone who instead of agreeing to obstructionist policies, actually pursues the advancement of far right goals, and I doubt it will change the minds of a segment of our population that is determined to take us back to the pre-Civil Rights era.
    The last thing the far right wants to hear is someone preaching about social and financial equality, equal rights for everyone, the need to be tolerant and compassionate, the need to find humane solutions to our immigration “problems”, the need to pursue peaceful solutions to global problems, and the need to protect our environment and, by default, our planet and the survival of the species.

    • CPAinNewYork

      If you expected anything else, you’re very naive.