The Pope on Panhandling: Give Without Worry

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New Yorkers, if not city dwellers everywhere, might acknowledge a debt to Pope Francis this week. He has offered a concrete, permanently useful prescription for dealing with panhandlers.

It’s this: Give them the money, and don’t worry about it.

The pope’s advice, from an interview with a Milan magazine published just before the beginning of Lent, is startlingly simple. It’sscripturally sound, yet possibly confounding, even subversive.

Living in the city — especially in metropolises where homelessness is an unsolved, unending crisis — means that at some point in your day, or week, a person seeming (or claiming) to be homeless, or suffering with a disability, will ask you for help.

You probably already have a panhandler policy.

You keep walking, or not. You give, or not. Loose coins, a dollar, or just a shake of the head. Your rule may be blanket, or case-by-case.

If it’s case by case, that means you have your own on-the-spot, individualized benefits program, with a bit of means-testing, mental health and character assessment, and criminal-background check — to the extent that any of this is possible from a second or two of looking someone up and down.

Francis’ solution eliminates that effort. But it is by no means effortless.

Speaking to the magazine Scarp de’ Tenis, which means Tennis Shoes, a monthly for and about the homeless and marginalized, the pope said that giving something to someone in need is “always right.” (We’re helped here by the translation in an article from Catholic News Service.)

But what if someone uses the money for, say, a glass of wine? (A perfectly Milanese question.) His answer: If “a glass of wine is the only happiness he has in life, that’s O.K. Instead, ask yourself, what do youdo on the sly? What ‘happiness’ do you seek in secret?” Another way to look at it, he said, is to recognize how you are the “luckier” one, with a home, a spouse and children, and then ask why your responsibility to help should be pushed onto someone else.

Then he posed a greater challenge. He said the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands.

The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own. This message runs through Francis’ preaching and writings, which always seem to turn on the practical and personal, often citing the people he met and served as a parish priest in Argentina.

His teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics has infuriated some conservative critics who accuse him, unfairly, of elevating compassion over doctrine. His recent statements on refugees and immigrants are the global version of his panhandler remarks — a rebuke aimed directly at the rich nations of Europe and at the United States.

America is in the middle of a raging argument over poor outcasts. The president speaks of building walls and repelling foreigners. That toxic mind-set can be opposed in Washington, but it can also be confronted on the sidewalk. You don’t know what that guy will do with your dollar. Maybe you’d disapprove of what he does. Maybe compassion is the right call.

A Fifth Crusade?

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You know a situation is bad when a pope calls for an armed response. Pope Francis, widely appreciated as a practical and realistic man, is not just calling for a cease-fire or negotiations. Instead, he is inviting an armed response to the terrorism of the Islamic State.

Such a call is virtually unprecedented for a pontiff in modern times, but our age is an extraordinary one and the Islamic State has no interest in a bargaining table. Instead, the Islamic State is bent on genocide and barbarism, ruthlessly exterminating anyone who opposes them.

On Sunday, Pope Francis said he held “dismay and disbelief” over what is happening in Iraq. He called the Islamic State fighters terrorists and said there was a need for “a professional, well-equipped army.” “The situation is going from bad to worse,” he warned. One can only imagine what he was thinking after ISIS published the beheading of James Foley, the CNN journalist.

Meanwhile, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad said, “There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse.”

Pope Francis and Patriarch Sako are not the only clerics calling for swift and decisive action to end the genocide in Iraq. The Episcopal Vicar of Iraq, Canon Andrew White, managed to visit the town of Qaraqosh under cover and personally assess the situation in that community following Islamic State capture.

His words are chilling. “Today, Qaraqosh stands 90 per cent empty, desecrated by the gunmen of the fanatical Islamic State terror group now in control. The majority of the town’s 50,000 people have fled, fearing that, like other Christians in this region, they will be massacred.

“The militants, in a further act of sacrilege, have established their administrative posts in the abandoned churches.”

Canon White reported that one woman had her finger hacked off after she could not remove her wedding ring fast enough. A caretaker of one of White’s parish churches in the community said his youngest son, aged five, was hacked in half as he watched.

A child, just five years old, hacked in half alive, before his father. The boy happened to be named Andrew, after the vicar himself.

The atrocities are real. The genocide is real. That the press barely reports on them is absolutely baffling. However, even the most religious, peace-loving figures are recognizing that this is not a usual evil. Normally, conflicts arise because of ancient grievances and they can be talked over and hashed out. Warring factions tire of burying their sons and eventually dialogue and other pressures forces peace.

However, the Islamic State has recruited fighters from most of the world’s nations and more arrive every day. They are motivated by an aggressive interpretation of Islamic scriptures. Most notably, they are consumed with bloodlust and willing to commit and publicize every atrocity. This attracts sadistic men from across the Islamic world to their cause who commit even more atrocities.

There seems no end to this madness.

New Pope in a digital world…

The new Pope will be dealing with a digitally savvy congregation…

At Pope Benedict’s announcement only a handful of the 100,000 plus visitors to the vatican had a mobile device with them…look at the throng of visitors photographed yesterday.

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