EDITORIAL: Remember Pope Francis’ call to service over holidays

The holidays are a time for buying, partying and gifting. But they’re also a time for reflection, celebration and giving. As the holiday season begins, it’s time for Marquette to reflect on its mission as a Jesuit institution.

Earlier this week Pope Francis released “Evangelii Gaudium,” an apostolic exhortation –– a paper with the pope’s official position on theology and the gospels. “Evangelii” was about sharing Christianity with the world, attacked the “idolatry of money,” discussed the importance of reaching out to the poor and urged global leaders to join in these efforts.

In 84 pages, the pope elaborates why it is important for the Roman Catholic Church to return to its personal, communal roots and decentralize.

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote.

This document is apparently Pope Francis’ personal philosophy, as earlier this week it was leaked that he probably serves Rome’s homeless at night in disguise. As students of a Catholic university in a city with rampant homelessness, we should follow his example, even if we don’t do it under cover of darkness.

Part of Marquette’s mission is service. As students we can directly help our community with resources not available to most people in Milwaukee. There are plenty of homeless people to serve in the city, and many ways to help them further their own lives with a bit of agency. According to a 2012 report by the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Division of Housing, over 23,000 homeless men and women used state services in 2012. Milwaukee County accounts for 28 percent of that – it has 3,000 more homeless people than any other county in Wisconsin, despite making up 17 percent of the state’s population in the 2010 census.

It all starts with awareness. While most students have a home to go to over winter break, it’s easy to forget those who do not. It’s a simple concept that can be lost in the nameless, faceless idea of “the homeless.” As Pope Francis points out, the media helps perpetuate this:

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?” he wrote.

We do tend to focus more on small twists and turns of the market rather than the homeless man sitting outside Gesu. Those who are homeless are people with stories, faces, names. Recognizing them as individuals is the first step in taking Pope Francis’ advice.

It’s up to students to determine their own response to the pope’s advice to serve. Students can do as much as use guest meal swipes to feed the hungry or as little as directing someone to an organization that will help them use his or her own agency to get off the street.

The exhortation was Pope Francis’ call to action, not official church dogma. It’s up to students and all Catholics to take his words and make personal decisions. The Dec. 5 Tribune story on homelessness offers some examples for the ways to serve the homeless.

Helping the homeless is not only about offering them meals, it is also about fostering friendships. Perhaps the simplest — and least thought of — approach to understanding homelessness is just offering friendship to someone in need.

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