WASHINGTON — Some Catholic Charities customers from Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County met Pope Francis after he addressed Congress on Sept. 24.
Pope Francis shook hands and spoke with homeless or otherwise marginalized people who are clients of Catholic Charities medical services or who stay in homeless shelters of Catholic Charities.
The pontiff declined an invitation to eat with members of Congress in favor of visiting the downtrodden.
However, a day earlier, Montgomery County residents, county police and County Executive Ike Leggett traveled to D.C to watch Pope Francis celebrate Mass outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception at the Catholic University of America.
Leggett said he attended the Mass and contributed money to Catholic Charities as part of a challenge.
Fifty Montgomery County police officers trained for special events directed traffic and controlled crowds in D.C., said Montgomery County Police spokesperson Cpl. Rebecca Innocenti.
Two parts comprised the pope’s visit to the homeless.
First, he arrived at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and spoke with 200 Catholic Charities customers and 50 staff members inside the church, according to Catholic Charities spokesperson Erik Salmi.
The Holy See then exited the church from a side door to attend a luncheon with about 300 homeless people from throughout the Archdiocese of Washington.
Several of the attendees arrived at luncheon from other Catholic Charities locations, passing through security scanners before being seated.
Once inside, they were not allowed to eat the food until the pope arrived to bless it.
“They said he was coming from Capitol Hill, and we’re not supposed to eat the food just yet,” said 57-year-old District resident Randy Thomas. “I mean, we were starving. But otherwise it was good. … It was pretty nice how he came out and blessed the food.”
Most Montgomery County residents attending the event saw Pope Francis inside the church, said the Rev. John Enzler, Catholic Charities president and CEO.
The clients and staff represent programs that address needs such as care for those with developmental disabilities, medical and dental care, homelessness, addiction, food and hunger and citizens returning from prison.
Enzler, who grew up in Bethesda, greeted the pope at St. Patrick’s Church and directed him inside.
He said the people Pope Francis chose to visit during his 48-hour stay in the District shows the pontiff’s attention to all people in the U.S. and he did not want to only spend time with federal officials.
“All of these speak of his commitment to everyone…not just those who are powerful and have a big voice in society,” said Enzler.
Only some of those who attended the luncheon provided by St. Maria’s Meals shook the pope’s hand.
Some wanted to meet the pope for religious reasons; others wanted to meet him to be part of history.
Earnest Odom, 32, said he signed up at his shelter and attended the visit because he had always wanted to meet the pope and this was his chance.
The 801 East Men’s Shelter resident said when Pope Francis shook his hand, he felt both empowered and inspired to find a new place to live.
“When I shook his hand, I felt a power like I could overcome anything,” Odom said. “(Pope Francis’ handshake) shows you just because you’re less fortunate [and] there ain’t nobody acknowledge you, you’re not going alone without nobody noticing your pain and suffering through all that you’re going through.
“He noticed us.”
Pope Francis made his way through the 50 tables under the Catholic Charities tent. He stopped at Odom’s dining table, shook his hand without saying a word and moved on.
“He shook my hand and left the table,” Odom said. “I’m the only one at the table who got to shake his hand.”
Odom said the pope brightened his mood because he showed interest in helping the homeless. Pope Francis conveyed his compassion nonverbally, Odom said.
Ronald Straughn, 72, said was excited to see the pope in a similar way to being excited to meet a new teacher at a school.
The pope serving as an international leader added to Straughn’s aspiration to meet him.
Straughn, who stays at 801 East Men’s Shelter located on the campus of St. Elizbeth’s Hospital, said Pope Francis is the third world leader he seen in person, joining former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev.
Thomas, who also lives at the shelter, said the pope inspired him to help his fellow homeless through volunteering at St. Matthew’s Church on Rhode Island Avenue.
“I really appreciated him coming into the U.S., and it kind of inspires me because, you know, I love the work that he does, and so it inspires me even though, me being homeless, it inspires me to help the homeless, which is a good thing,” the 57-year-old said. “I mean, I’ve been homeless for like 10 years.”
He said he volunteered at St. Matthew’s church prior to Pope Francis’ visit.
D’Angelo Brevard, 22, mentioned he wanted to attend the event because of the historical significance of the pope visit to the U.S.
“I would see the pope on T.V. and stuff like that, but actually going down there and actually seeing him, seeing the mayor and stuff like that, that was a big history thing for me,” Brevard said.
Brevard described himself as a Christian, but he said religion “doesn’t mean anything” to him.
However, he said he wants the pope to visit a second time in the future.
“Me and (Pope Francis), that was a new experience for me,” Brevard said. “He was a very nice person, and he seems cool, so I’d like to see him again. I’d like to see him come back down here.”
Homeless people living at shelters receiving tickets from their respective shelters attended the luncheon.
A woman named Susan said she does not stay in shelters because the conditions make her sick. She said the luncheon that Thursday afternoon was a “show” that inconvenienced people on their way to work.
“It was like this big show,” said Susan, who did not want to give her full name. “To me it was a lot of propaganda. A lot of promises made that will never come true. Politicians make promises to us all the time to get into office.”
She said she did not see any effects of the visit.
However, if access to housing for homeless improved as a result of the event, she said, she wondered why the pope was needed in the first place.
“Why did it take the pope to come to the United States to change things?” she asked. “Take care of home first.”
Enzler recalled Pope Francis’ message of welcoming immigrants and “those who are poor and left behind” in almost all 18 of his talks in the U.S.
The pope visited a prison, a refugee camp, Congress, the White House, the United Nations General Assembly and multiple churches, as well as other locations during his U.S. visit, Enzler said.