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A common calling: Service to the poor

By Deborah Kincade Rambo and Suzanne Ouellette
Posted: 3/22/2013

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As crowds gathered Tuesday morning in St. Peter's Square, the world prepared to watch the installation of the first pope from the Americas, Pope Francis. Pope Francis formally became leader to 1.2 billion Roman Catholics including those of us here at Catholic Charities of Boston.

The diverse crowd included representatives of countries around the world, among them Vice President Joseph Biden, religious leaders like Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew from Istanbul, the leader of Orthodox Christians, and thousands of interested people, rich and poor, young and old.

Newspapers are predicting change for the Catholic Church with simpler liturgy, a decentralized Vatican and a new more equitable Church that weighs opinions of fellow bishops. Questions have emerged like who is Pope Francis? Will he remold the Catholic Church? Will he bring Catholics across the world home?

His role, his calling, is to be a "Servant of the Servants of God." His name cloaked in poverty gives witness to this.

Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, was inspired to take the name of St. Francis of the Assisi, who he referred to as "The man of the poor, the man of peace. The man who loved and cared for all creation."

Tradition describes St. Francis as a man of peace, the poor man called to serve the poor. Christ's message to him was "Francis, rebuild my Church." It was a message for his time and ours as well.

At Catholic Charities, we, too, serve the poor and working poor. Our mission is to build a just and compassionate society rooted in the dignity of all people. We aim to help people get back on their feet and on the road to self-sufficiency. Our staff is diverse and interreligious, just as the clients who cross our threshold are. Yet despite our differences, we share a passion for helping those who are at risk of falling through the cracks of our social safety net -- "We don't ask you if you're Catholic, we ask you if you're hungry."

As a Jesuit, Pope Francis brings a new face to the leadership of the Church. It is a face of modesty, community, openness, and spirituality. He has been out among the people, walked towards them blessing the poor and the disabled. He rode an open car. He paid his own bill at the hotel. He chose a simple, used, antique ring amidst a formal Vatican setting. He appears to be a common man of the people who has taken on the name of a most revered saint.

In his first press conference, Pope Francis went off-script, sharing the advice he received in the final moments before the announcement of his election with his friend, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes. "He hugged me. He kissed me. He said don't forget about the poor," Francis recalled. "And that's how in my heart came the name Francis of Assisi."

We, at Catholic Charities, are dedicated to serving the poor in communities across the archdiocese. We are inspired by the vision of Pope Francis -- a future filled with hope, promise, inspiration, and service.

Deborah Kincade Rambo and Suzanne Ouellette are officials of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.