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So it comes as little surprise, then, that on Thursday—during the last leg of his visit to D.C.—Pope Francis will share a meal with 300 of the District’s most underprivileged residents at a luncheon held by Catholic Charities outside St. Patrick’s Church, on closed-off G Street NW. Under a large tent providing shelter for more than 50 tables covered with white-linen cloth, the pope will bless a menu of boneless teriyaki chicken breast, Asian pasta salad, steamed green beans and carrots, potato rolls, and, for dessert, brownies and blondies. The meal is being partly prepared today at a kitchen in Brookland, given the number of attendees and the fact that it must be transported to Catholic Charities’ office next to St. Patrick’s before a security sweep occurs.
“We expect [the pope] to be like a maître d’ at a restaurant,” says Erik Salmi, communications director for the Washington branch of the nonprofit religious group. “There’s not a lot that’s scripted; rather, we want him to have as much time to greet people [and] spend time with them as possible. He’s big with people on the margins of society, those that tend to get overlooked.”
Around 70 volunteers will help serve the food at the luncheon in addition to Catholic Charities staff. Live music will play before the meal to keep the crowd entertained as they await the pope’s arrival from an earlier event at the U.S. Capitol, where he will speak on a variety of social issues to a joint session of Congress; he’s then expected to appear briefly on the West Front of building, as crowds look up from the National Mall. The music will include Irish Tenor Mark Forrest and a choir of students from Connelly School of the Holy Child and Gonzaga College High School.
“This pope like no other has gotten into the spotlight and talked about [serving underprivileged communities] in an accessible way,” Salmi says. “He really believes in ‘a church in the streets.’”
Immediately before the meal on Thursday, Pope Francis will bless 250 Catholic Charities clients from 65 programs and 47 locations across the District (separate from the group of 300 homeless) inside St. Patrick’s. Sixty parishioners and Monsignor Sal will also be present for the blessing.
The pope’s visit comes at a time when the District has committed to tackling homelessness and bolstering economic opportunity for its most vulnerable members. At the end of August, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a large expansion to D.C.’s shelter programs, aiming to put in place a year-round system instead of one that only accepts families when temperatures risk hypothermia.
“On paper, the luncheon is about an hour,” Salmi says. “We think this pope will hopefully linger more since he doesn’t have anything else scheduled until he leaves. We hope he doesn’t run off.”
Photo by Alfredo Borba via Wikimedia Commons