Much is being made of theinterview with Pope Francis that was released early Friday morning. In particular the section where he compares the Church to a field hospital after battle and the first question is 'How are we treating the people of God?' The Pope's main point is that rules don't become a consideration until the wounded are healed.
In a similar vein, Vinnies CEO John Falzon said on Friday: 'There is no place in Australia for the kind of policy approach that equates to condemning people for not being able to walk up stairs while refusing to build a ramp.'
Discussing the Federal Government's Work for the Dole Scheme, he said the Government will do nothing to increase employment participation 'if it chooses to demonise people'.
Pope Francis says: 'We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.'
Falzon also insists that people must be accompanied and empowered where they are, and not have to wait until they fulfil various qualification criteria. 'People who are unemployed should never be forced to live in poverty. This is why Newstart still needs to be urgently increased by $50 a week.'
To use Francis' term, if they are accompanied, rather than punished, they are more likely to rise out of poverty.
A particularly powerful media presentation of accompaniment was Steve Cannane's hour-long ABC radio interview with Sister Anne Jordan last Monday. She is coordinator of Cana Communities, a Sydney-based organisation dealing with people who have become homeless through mental illness and addiction, or are unable to make a start after leaving prison.
She says an 'arms length' approach to former prisoners does not help them to re-establish a life, and inevitably leads them to reoffend. '[Society] gives them $200 and say go get a job and a house. How can you do that? You can't even get a place to live in Sydney for that ... We need the community attitude to be one of welcome.'
That may be difficult if their behaviour is antisocial, according to our way of thinking. Jordan even tells of people she has welcomed setting fire to the shelter she has given them, and that this has not stopped her from welcoming them again after time away.
Francis' message is that people on the margins tend not to follow the rules, but that is a long-term goal that is secondary to the accompaniment we offer them as the first and most urgent priority.
Further reading: 2013 Social Justice Statement 'Lazarus at our Gate'.