Pope Francis' field hospital


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 be difficult if their behaviour is antisocial, according to our way of thinking. Jordan even tells of people she has welcomed setting fire to the shelter she has given them, and that this has not stopped her from welcoming them again after time away.

Francis' message is that people on the margins tend not to follow the rules, but that is a long-term goal that is secondary to the accompaniment we offer them as the first and most urgent priority.

Further reading: 2013 Social Justice Statement 'Lazarus at our Gate'

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 

Field Hospital Image: Sergey Kamshylin / Shutterstock.com



Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Pope Francis, John Falzon, Anne Jordan, poverty, Work for the Dole, Catholic



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Existing comments

All of this may be true and needs to be said, Michael. But there are thousands of job vacancies now all over Australia. They're boring and unattractive, but the only barrier to many people moving into them is welfare payments. History repeats itself. At the end of school in 1975 - a deep recession period - my friends routinely registered for the dole. I didn't. I searched of jobs, and, considering the media headlines, on my first afternoon was staggered to have had 3 offers in a couple of hours, in a high youth unemployment area. I know of good Catholic kids today who are nevertheless running rings around Centrelink instead of bona fide declaring their incomes, and think nothing of it. Their dissimilitude is rationalized in terms of a long term loan - "we'll pay it back through our taxes". Unless we refine our welfare systems to forensically target the genuinely needy, cynicism grows and those genuinely needy remain at the bottom of the ladder.
HH | 22 September 2013

AA has much to teach the church about the way to help those in need. AA carries a spiritual message to the addict and does so by a fellow addict. AA works for millions...alternatives have never worked. It requires a total surrender to the power of a personal God. One alcoholic talking to another is what is needed....Its the same in the church...one sinner talking to another works.....rules dont..
jim macken | 23 September 2013

A timely comment, Fr Mullins, one that should (but won't) resonate with our professed Christian & Catholic politicians.
Patricia R | 23 September 2013

what on earth is the photo about.....!?
Eugene | 23 September 2013

Thanks for a timely reminder of the need for better understanding of poverty and a better way to deal with the unemployed. The punitive approach of both Labor and the Coalition is both cruel and ineffective. Attitudes like that expressed by HH are all too common. Yes, there are some who abuse the welfare system, as there are those who evade taxes, etc., but that should not determine how we treat the majority who are in genuine need. Rather than blaming people for their poverty, demeaning those dependent on welfare and making unreasonable demands on recipients, we need to find creative and lasting solutions, offer genuine support, so that people can find work, stay in employment and escape poverty.
Myrna | 23 September 2013

Good on Tony Abbott for bring back work for the dole. Wouldnt it be nice if the farmer who's fruit is lying on the ground unused, could have some work for the dole persons come and pick it up and distribute it to other poor people needing a good meal. Now that would be worthwhile work for the dole. You may also learn respect for others, punctuality, and new skills. You wouldnt be sleeping all day and complaining about the welfare system. In fact, you might just feel good that you did something for others and helped yourself as well. Abbott has been PM for less than 5 mins and already you are chewing him up. I am sure that he will grow into his job and deal with issues in a much more Christian way that many of his detractors. Eureka Street wrote and supported Kevin Rudd many times and what a dud he was. Is this sour grapes (pardon the pun)?
Phillip_rowan@hotmail.com | 23 September 2013

Jenny Macklin as Minister introduced the cruellest bit of legislation I can remember. The insistence that single mothers must go to New Start once their youngest children reach 8 years ignores the fact that many of these women are unemployable. I call on many within Macklin's electorate who would not get a job if there w ere 100 vacancies and one of these was t he only applicant.. I repeat THEY ARE UNEMPLOYABLE.
Bill Barry | 23 September 2013

Maybe his mind is going back to his days in Buenos Airies.....I can't believe how everyone is being swept along with every word that comes out of his mouth, many are crusin for a brusin as the saying does as far as I'm concerned With a new name and a clean moral slate.....
Lynne Newington | 23 September 2013

Thank you, Michael. Well said. And thank God for people like Anne Jordan. Many people are unemployable through illness or addiction or mental or physical incapacity. I see some as a Rosies volunteer. And I fear my child will join their ranks one day. We need more compassion as a society. More of the mercy of Jesus and less judgement. No matter how much we try to help them, some will always need support. It is so easy to sit in judgment when one has not suffered like them and has no idea what they (or their carers) have been through.
Frank S | 23 September 2013

Is this idea that we are in the throes of some brutal war really necessary? Everyone agrees that we should have a system of social insurance to assist the disadvantaged and vulnerable. We don’t have an ideological war over the welfare state - but perhaps we need one. We need a serious discussion about the cult of welfarism as the only solution to the problems facing the vulnerable and facing the poor: about the detrimental impact state oversight of poor and working-class communities is having on social solidarity, community bonds and individual initiative. Surely the Church should be demanding full employment, growth, prosperity, a better world, a new era, the abolition of poverty with abundance for all rather than campaigning, solely and relentlessly, for the right of the poor to be looked after, ad infinitum, by the state.
DavidSt | 26 September 2013

Dear HH, I daresay you were not afflicted with borderline learning difficulties, nor lacked independent living skills nor suffered personality problems compounded by rudeness and insensitivity by certain Centrelink staff.
Ena Mary | 27 September 2013


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