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Pope Francis' field hospital

  • 23 September 2013

Much is being made of the interview with Pope Francis that was released early Friday morning. In particular the section where he compares the Church to a field hospital after battle and the first question is 'How are we treating the people of God?' The Pope's main point is that rules don't become a consideration until the wounded are healed.

In a similar vein, Vinnies CEO John Falzon said on Friday: 'There is no place in Australia for the kind of policy approach that equates to condemning people for not being able to walk up stairs while refusing to build a ramp.'

Discussing the Federal Government's Work for the Dole Scheme, he said the Government will do nothing to increase employment participation 'if it chooses to demonise people'.

Pope Francis says: 'We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.'

Falzon also insists that people must be accompanied and empowered where they are, and not have to wait until they fulfil various qualification criteria. 'People who are unemployed should never be forced to live in poverty. This is why Newstart still needs to be urgently increased by $50 a week.'

The odds are always against anybody who lives in poverty, especially in isolation. When those who are desperate feel they are being punished — or continuing to be punished if they have left prison — they simply become more desperate and follow a perilous course. They sit on the margins of society, often demonised for the addictions they inevitably fall prey to. 

To use Francis' term, if they are accompanied, rather than punished, they are more likely to rise out of poverty.

A particularly powerful media presentation of accompaniment was Steve Cannane's hour-long ABC radio interview with Sister Anne Jordan last Monday. She is coordinator of Cana Communities, a Sydney-based organisation dealing with people who have become homeless through mental illness and addiction, or are unable to make a start after leaving prison.

She says an 'arms length' approach to former prisoners does not help them to re-establish a life, and inevitably leads them to reoffend. '[Society] gives them $200 and say go get a job and a house. How can you do that? You can't even get a place to live in Sydney for that ... We need the community attitude to be one of welcome.'

That may