Observing World Homeless Day in the Year of Mercy
Monday, October 10 marks World Homeless Day, an annual observance that promotes awareness and advocacy for issues related to homelessness. For us as Catholics, it is especially important to recognize World Homeless Day during this year, the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
One of the Corporal Works of Mercy is to shelter the homeless. Other Corporal Works of Mercy, such as feeding the hungry and giving alms to the poor, focus on serving people who may also be experiencing homelessness. The Church has a long history of teaching mercy and compassion for people who are homeless. Today, in their current advocacy position on housing and homelessness, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “The Catholic bishops believe decent, safe, and affordable housing is a human right. Catholic teaching supports the right to private property, but recognizes that communities and the government have an obligation to ensure the housing needs of all are met, especially poor and vulnerable people and their families.”
During the Year of Mercy, it is important for us to recognize the struggles of people who are homeless and reflect on ways to alleviate their suffering with love and compassion. In addition to this, we are called to celebrate the dignity and contributions of these individuals as our sister and brothers in Christ. If we think earnestly about these issues during the Year of Mercy, we must put thought into action going forward.
The Year of Mercy calls us to mercy in a special way, but that does not mean mercy ends with the conclusion of the Jubilee Year. God’s mercy is not limited to a time frame; it is boundless. In the same way, our participation in the Works of Mercy must not end when the Year of Mercy is over.
Pope Francis gives us a wonderful example of serving people who are homeless. Since becoming Pope, the Holy Father has provided a health clinic, shower stalls, and haircuts for the homeless in St. Peter’s Square. Recently, he announced a special catechesis and Mass for the homeless to conclude the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis’s example teaches us that we cannot simply give money to the homeless and feel that the problem is solved. We must instead celebrate the dignity of all human beings, including—and especially—people who do not have homes.
There are many things we can do to serve our homeless sisters and brothers during the Year of Mercy and beyond. Check with your parish or diocese to see what kind of outreach they are doing locally. Provide food and basic necessities, like socks, to those who are in need. Talk to people who are living on the street, even if you have nothing material to give, instead of just walking past them. Most importantly, pray for those in need. We pray in a special way for the intercession of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, patron saint of the homeless.