In Chicago, I do not think anyone is smiling more broadly than Cardinal Archbishop George, Francis George, that is. Our own Francis has regularly appealed to us to get to the margins, to advocate and serve victims of violence, discrimination, and poverty.

The selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Christ's Vicar--and the humble surety with which he accepted the call--have graced us.  Pope Francis will surely ask us time and again to turn our eyes to the poor, to be with them, work with them, and find Christ in them. And hopefully, allow them to show us our own poverty and so find Christ in us. 

The announcement that we shall call him Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, propelled me back to an amazing year of conversion when I worked in the Diocese of Saginaw, Michigan. At the March 1991 Chrism Mass, Bishop Ken Untener coupled two decrees with the Blessing of the Oils. The first had to do with how the Oils would be used in communities of the Diocese. They would be used lavishly. The Oils, he noted, are symbols of God's largesse. "I think you get the idea," he said, "I hereby declare that whenever and wherever these oils are used, they be used generously."

The second decree was a stunner. "I hereby decree that from this day forward until July 1, 1991, every meeting--no matter for what purpose--have as its first agenda item this question: 'How will what we are doing here affect or involve the poor?'"

Immediately thereafter, the Bishop convened a meeting of his diocesan staff. We were told that the decree applied to us, too. When we made any appearance, any, at a parish, we would ask that question. We would also gently deter conversations from devolving into discussion about "the spiritually poor" or those who were in need because of the many kinds of poverty that do not include physical, economic, and social impoverishment. We would focus on the edge people in society. Bishop Untener would also challenge us to consider whom Society would name "the undeserving poor," and how we would walk with them.

It was a year of struggle for many, and those who made the effort would be rewarded with a stronger and deepened sense of personal and communal mission. We could not possibly hear Gospel proclaimed to us without noticing the invisible edge people. Programs, liturgies, youth ministries, even the selection of hymns for worship took on new vitality. That Fall would see a rise in parish-based ministries to the poor in rural and urban areas. Participation in social immersion programs and Habitat for Humanity programs increased.

It was striking that during the recent Presidential campaigns in the U.S., the "lowest" sector for whom any major candidate could appeal was "the middle class." Noticeable only by their exclusion were the poor. 

Papa Francis may be able to nurture in us a revived awareness, and so help us find mission and voice, actionable mission and voice, that lifts up the poor. At his request, we bless him and we pray for him.

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