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Pope Francis Meets Homeless At Catholic Charities In Washington, D.C.


Pope Francis is now in New York City, the second stop of his U.S. tour, which will include a meeting with world leaders at the United Nations tomorrow. Today Francis addressed leaders in Congress and returned to one of his central themes, the call to fight income inequality and address the needs of the poor.


POPE FRANCIS: The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts.

SHAPIRO: The pope said those in need must be given hope, and he went on to do exactly that. He got on a Fiat he had used in his D.C. visit and went to a lunch. NPR's Pam Fessler was there.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) With my voice, and in my (unintelligible).

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: It was not the kind of lunch most of the 300 people invited to attend are used to. Round tables covered in pale blue linen cloths with centerpieces of white and yellow flowers, all set up outside the offices of Catholic Charities under a huge white tent, like a wedding reception. Almost everyone here was among those who the Pope says are too often marginalized by the rest of society, people like William Smith.

WILLIAM SMITH: Yeah, I lived in abandonminiums (ph), condominiums, cardboard boxes, I lived in the woods. I'm an addict.

FESSLER: Smith has been homeless for 30 of his 46 years. He's now in a rehabilitation program. He called today phenomenal, not only because he was getting to see the pope...

SMITH: He came here to see us.

FESSLER: And it was the fact that the pope was coming here to meet them - people so often ignored and disparaged by others - that had everyone here so excited. Among the attendees were not only the homeless and recovering addicts, but struggling single mothers, victims of domestic abuse and the mentally challenged.

And your name is?

LATISHA BUSSIE: Latisha Bussie, but everyone calls me Tony.

FESSLER: She's now working to get a college degree and lives in permanent supportive housing, but Bussie says for most of her life, she was an alcoholic and an addict and homeless. She took her first drink when she was 5 years old. Now she's 36. She says at this point in her life, she expected to be dead, not seeing a pope.

BUSSIE: It's awesome, you know? And then again, you get to meet the man who actually has started a change on how people should look towards other people.

FESSLER: People like her. And the Pope did not disappoint. When he arrived on the block, he first stopped next-door at St. Patrick's Church, where he spoke with other clients of Catholic Charities. The pope reminded them that when Jesus came into the world, he too was homeless. And then he added...


POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken).

FESSLER: "We can find no social or moral justification - no justification whatsoever - for lack of housing," he said. It was a message that was music to the ears of those here and waiting outside in the tent...


FESSLER: ...Where he was greeted with a standing ovation. When the cheering stopped, the pope quietly blessed the meal - chicken teriyaki, pasta, carrots and green beans.


POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken). Enjoy your meal.

FESSLER: First, those who had waited so long to meet the man who wanted to meet them crowded around Francis. One woman took a selfie, others shook his hand and shouted out greetings.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We love you, Papa.

FESSLER: With that, he was gone. But those here say they hope the symbolism of his visit will linger on.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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