Advocates for the poor announced a fund-raising campaign Monday that is as pragmatic as it is spiritual - using Pope Francis' forthcoming visit as a focal point of giving.
Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of the Philadelphia anti-homelessness group Project HOME, stood outside the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to describe the formation of the Mercy and Justice Initiative charitable fund. The goal is to raise $1.5 million.
Scullion announced "the good news" at a spot on the Parkway where many homeless people gather.
"We are launching an initiative to take concrete action to end and prevent homelessness and hunger," Scullion told the about 100 people present. "In 97 days, Pope Francis will speak to as many as two million people here on the Parkway. He will speak out on poverty."
The fund, known as the "Francis Fund," is a short-term initiative of the Hunger and Homelessness Committee of the World Meeting of Families. Scullion heads that committee for the World Meeting, an organization that sponsors the world's largest Catholic gathering of families every three years. That meeting will draw Francis to Philadelphia, for an appearance at a family festival on the Parkway on Sept. 26 and a Mass there the next day.
As many as two million people are expected to pour into the city for the weekend events.
The Francis Fund, serving the hungry and homeless in the Philadelphia area including Camden, has committed $700,000 to nearly 50 human services organizations, Scullion said. Scullion announced that a second initiative, the Act for Justice Campaign, is also underway.
It's a plan to ask Congress to help the poor. A statement, "A Time for Mercy and Justice: Pope Francis and the Common Good in the United States," has been sent to legislators, Scullion said.
She and other advocates have seized on the pope's statements about the poor to bring the plight of the less fortunate to light.
Calling poverty a "scandal," Francis has said economic inequality "kills."
He also has said, "The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead is . . . nothing ever comes out for the poor."
Some of the fund's proceeds will be used for a Philadelphia residential treatment program at an undisclosed location created for women involved in human trafficking; the addition of medical services to a men's shelter in Camden; and the Beth Shalom Congregation Mitzvah Food Pantry in Elkins Park.