Catholic Charities leader: Pope's message prompts more volunteerism

  • Pope Francis listens to families inside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, on Tuesday.

    Pope Francis listens to families inside the Metropolitan Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, on Tuesday. Associated Press

  • Pope in D.C.

    Graphic: Pope in D.C. (click image to open)


He has washed the feet of prisoners, hugged the homeless and is building them a shelter on the edge of Vatican City, and honored the elderly.

Pope Francis' message of hope, healing and mercy is inspiring people to go into the trenches and help those suffering, said Monsignor Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"We've seen an increase in volunteerism," Boland said. "It's bringing a lot of people to think differently about people who are struggling. That's really what we do at Catholic Charities."

Catholic Charities, the largest social service provider in the Midwest, serves more than 1 million people yearly at 164 sites in Cook and Lake counties.

The agency also works with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help resettle roughly 50 refugee families per month in the Chicago area.

By highlighting the plight of refugees and speaking up for the poor in Latin America, Francis is inspiring people to act, Boland said.

"It has been really great, his bringing that up to people's attention," he said. "He has captivated at least the attention of the media, which is helpful to make the world a better place, more humane, more welcoming and more accepting. His predecessors did oftentimes the same things, but he has brought attention to a lot of people in different ways, in new ways."

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Parishes and community groups have approached the agency to learn more about its mission of supporting the homeless and elderly.

"People are much more engaged. ... We've been trying to live out the message and it's a place where they can join us as well," Boland said.

Boland will be in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to see the pope, though he won't be getting a private audience.

"It's very exciting," he said. "I will be at the White House to watch him when he speaks to Congress. That's a historic thing. The pope has never addressed a joint session of Congress."

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