Pope’s Kitchener visit stirs excitement, but also anxiety for homeless

Visitors from around the world are flocking to Kitchener’s Center City neighborhood to prepare for the arrival of Pope Francis later this week. Preparations, which include erecting miles of barriers to cordon off the downtown cathedral and other areas where Francis is supposed to appear, disrupted some services and created both fear and excitement.

Many of those who came to the downtown Convention Center on Tuesday for the opening ceremony of the World Meeting of Families that preceded the Pope’s arrival brought banners, fleece vests, and hats that identified their hometowns, from Buenos Aires to Nairobi to Chicago.

62-year-old Frank Hannigan paused on the steps of the convention center to pose for a photo with a group of about 30 people in Chicago fleece vests that arrived on the bus Monday night.

“You see people from all over the continent here. It’s a powerful reminder of how big and diverse the Church is, ”said Hannigan, director of the Department of Marriage and Family for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

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ValLimar Jansen from Fontana, California, also just arrived with friends from the Inland Empire and the San Francisco Bay Area. They said the city was well prepared, the traffic lights, the streets littered with inspirational signs and billboards heralded the Pope’s arrival.

Jansen wore an African headscarf and a bright yellow dress for a morning concert at the children’s congress.

“We’re not just celebrating the family – it’s the human family. One of the things we teach our children is that we have an obligation to serve, ”she said.

Her friend Densy Chandra, from Highland, California, organized accommodations for dozens of Indonesian Catholics from across the country.

“The people were very welcoming,” she said, including the families who hosted visitors. “The immigrants are now continuing the work of the Italians and the Poles [immigrants]and fill the churches. “

Rev. Daniel Romo flew in with a contingent from Africa from Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday morning and drove straight to the green domed Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, where the Archbishop made a special appearance to celebrate Mass and greet his group.

“I am very excited and very happy to be here and look forward to a fruitful exchange on family-related issues, to see the joys and challenges and how best to approach them,” said Romo while he was at the after the show Near stalls outside stood selling 25 dollar bobblehead dolls of Pope Francis and workers installing jumbotron screens.

Across the Logan Circle, behind the construction teams, vendors, and banners, another contingent feared that the Pope’s safety would evict members of the group from their makeshift homes.

“They want the homeless to go,” said Karlo Dudley, who for the past few months had camped with a few dozen others on cardboard boxes on the grassy edge of the circle, which turned into a sign shouting: We stay, we go. “

The mayor and other officials announced long ago that increased security would restrict access to much of the city center. Metal detectors, intelligence sweeps, and tickets are required in places the Pope visits, including the Cathedral and the nearby Ben Franklin Parkway. You are now faced with a difficult task: to oust some of the most needy in society, even temporarily, a focus of the Pope’s ministry.

Dudley and others believe the Pope wants them to stay.

“He wants the poor here, the people he is interested in. Let them hear his speech if they want. If they get out of order, remove them, ”he said.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kitchener said they would work with a World Committee on Homelessness and Hunger for Families and the city to “meet the important needs of those living on the parkway.”

“With a view to Pope Francis’ pastoral priorities, we want to uphold the dignity of every human being,” said spokesman Ken Gavin.

Gavin said officials had discussions with Sister Mary Scullion, the influential founder of the longtime local homeless group Project HOME, which “requested special housing for the homeless during papal mass that we are happy to sign up”.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter said the homeless would not be evicted from the area once security checks begin Thursday evening.

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“Once an area is swept and people are allowed to come back, they can certainly come back,” said spokesman Mark McDonald, but added, “They may have to park their things elsewhere.”

Those who choose to return will face the crowds like other downtown residents.

“People in all walks of life, including the homeless, need to make adjustments,” McDonald said.

Marie Nahikian, the city’s supportive housing officer, said public relations workers will be handing out grocery vouchers to the homeless this week and transporting them out of the area if they want to skip the crowd. A local group is also setting up a cafe to serve hundreds of free meals to the homeless, and city officials are trying to ensure that other groups that are distributing free groceries have access to the area to help the homeless.

“You will have a wide choice,” she said.

Romo, the visiting Kenyan priest, said organizers need to secure the area, especially with so many visitors pouring in.

However, 56-year-old fellow visitor Andres Hernandez from Tlaxcala, Mexico said the homeless deserve equal access to the region.

“The Holy Father comes for us all,” he said, noting that when Jesus broke bread or washed feet, he “made no difference”.

Neither did Pope Francis, he said. Hernandez noted that the Pope washed the inmates’ feet and ate with visitors to the Vatican cafeteria.

Some of the homeless camped out in Logan Circle this week joked that if Francis is forced to leave, he will ask where they went and look for them.

Volunteers handed out sandwiches with water and chicken salad on Sunday before gathering around a folding table in the grass to bless the park before the Pope’s arrival.

“The Pope is supposed to be the servant of the poor,” said Steve Loibimbi, 44, a South African immigrant who was inspired by a local ministry to stop alcohol abuse, find shelter and get a job at a bank.

When the service began, ministers blessed the water and sprinkled it on the grass while tourists watched from buses and Segways passing by.

“We want the world to know that when you gather here with Pope Francis, it is not just holy ground today and that holy ground is available to all children of God,” said Rev. Robin Hynicka of the Arch Methodist United Methodist in downtown church.

Twitter: @mollyhf


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