THIS WEEK, as we prepare for Pope Francis to visit Philadelphia, I am, like many in our city, looking forward to his presence here. But I find it ironic that as he comes to join us for the World Meeting of Families, the families that are most in need of a blessing will be on the outside looking in.
Those families are the ones who comprise Philadelphia's stunning 26 percent poverty rate, and they are accustomed to being outsiders. They live in communities that are locked out of educational opportunities, because their children are the ones who attended the 24 public schools that closed in 2013.
And make no mistake, those school closings happened primarily in poor communities - neighborhoods that in many cases are located just beyond the same dividing lines that will separate Philadelphia's impoverished from Pope Francis.
Don't believe me? Travel to North Philadelphia, where both Vaux high school and Reynolds elementary were closed. Both schools are just blocks from Girard Avenue, one of several streets forming the traffic box that will secure Pope Francis from the rest of us. Travel to South Philadelphia, where the shuttered Bok high school is now home to a beer garden. That school and that neighborhood are just over a mile beyond the South Street border that closes off traffic from the pope.
After you examine the numbers, which show that more than 90 percent of the children in all three schools were economically disadvantaged, take a deeper look at poverty in Philadelphia. If you do, you will see children.
Poverty, you see, is evident in our underfunded and under-resourced schools. But more than that, poverty is evident in the lives of the children who attend them.
About 37 percent of our city's children live in poverty, according to the latest Census American Communities Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. That means that when we look at Philadelphia's families, we see young people who are starting off at a deficit. We see young people who are powerless to change their families' economics.
We see young people in need of a blessing.
I know the pope has spoken many times about the plight of the impoverished. But I was most interested in what he said about riches and poverty during his visit to Cuba, the country he visited before his trip to America.
Pope Francis, straying from his prepared remarks, said that "richness impoverishes," according to an ABC News transcript from a vespers celebration at Havana Cathedral. "It makes us poor in the only wealth that is worth having, to put our safety in other things. The spirit of poverty, of letting go of everything to follow Jesus. This is in the Gospel several times. The first ones left the boats, and the nets, and followed him. They left it all to follow Jesus."
As a man of faith, I appreciate those remarks, because I know that the relentless pursuit of riches can make one poor in spirit. However, the unyielding presence of poverty can make one poor in hope.
In the communities beyond the dividing lines that will separate the pope from the impoverished, there is, far too often, a fundamental lack of hope. It's driven by the underfunding of our schools by the state, the demonization of our children by the media, the economic disinvestment by corporate interests and the lack of response by too many elected officials.
But while those communities have been separated from this papal visit in the name of security, Pope Francis can still reach out to them, and do so in the name of hope.
After all, Pope Francis is correct when he says we must sometimes let go of everything in order to grasp the riches that matter.
The impoverished families of Philadelphia are waiting.
Pope Francis, come show them the way.