Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 3, 2007
Homeless a 'global pandemic – archbishop
By CAROL GLATZ
Catholic News Service
Homelessness is "a global pandemic" that demands a Christian response and government intervention, said a Vatican official.
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, said more than one billion people are homeless or lack adequate shelter, and that number is on the rise.
Some 50,000 people, mostly women and children, die every day because they lack decent shelter, clean water and proper sanitation, he said in a Nov. 26 address.
Marchetto said these "figures should startle, if not shock us, and they should goad us to greater pastoral action" and advocacy regarding the root causes of homelessness.
The archbishop was speaking at the Vatican's first international conference on the pastoral needs of the homeless.
About 50 participants from all over the world shared ways the Church could provide basic material assistance for people on the street and find new ways to promote their dignity and value.
The international community declared more than 50 years ago that basic housing, clothing, food, medical care and social services are all fundamental human rights, Marchetto said.
But the increasing number of people without adequate shelter and care is a sign that parts of the world "have become selectively amnesiac, especially of an imperfect, unequal and unjust social order," he said.
The "grave situation" of inadequate housing for so many people is "continually casting a shadow over the world, the Church and society," he said.
"While the responsibility to provide just and suitable housing for all belongs properly to the state, it has always been the duty of the Christian not to deny the plight of those who are homeless and have fallen to the margins of society."
Christians are called to care for and "walk side by side with those who are homeless not only in their need for shelter, but in their effort for a more dignified way of living."
The pastoral and spiritual needs of homeless individuals are vast and varied, he said, because homelessness does not just mean a lack of permanent shelter; "it is the collapse of a world, of security, personal relationships and of dignity. It is the loss of the ability to lead a life truly human."
Marchetto said the Church must foster "communities of welcome," which are willing "not only to receive the homeless but also to accompany them with commitment."
Each homeless person needs to be seen as an individual with specific needs and "not a problem to be sent elsewhere."
The faithful must also address the causes of homelessness and poverty, he said, by being advocates on such public issues as "housing policy, employment, welfare, health care and state support for the homeless."