When Pope Francis spoke to me

No matter how prettified San Miguel’s colonial Centro becomes, street beggars refuse to go away.

And why should they? Beggars have been part of San Miguel forever so why should they pack up and go so as not to offend the sensibilities of tourists who will be here for only a week, or two or spoil the town’s ever more commercialized colonial charm?

In a recent article Pope Francis spoke about beggars and his words struck my mind as well as my heart even though I hopped off the Roman Catholic haywagon long ago and generally don’t keep track of Vatican pronunciamentos.

He said we should give to beggars, no questions asked, and also talk to them and even physically touch them. Go ahead and hold their hands for a second or two.

Francis says: “Reach out and touch that beggar.”

His words also took me, in a roundabout way, to the debate in Washington over health care for the poor and what the government should do about it—if anything.

Panhandling and poverty are desperate conditions people don’t voluntarily embrace.

Most beggars in San Miguel’s Centro are women with ragamuffin children who set up shop in church courtyards or outside busy shops, where customers and supplicants can’t avoid at least brief eye contact. The beggars’ pitch is usually an extended hand, sometimes reinforced with a pathetic look or mumbled plea.

When we’re confronted with them—people who may be dirty, smelly or disheveled, their lives disfigured by poverty, violence, substance abuse or maybe illness—our instinctive reaction is avoidance, just the opposite of what the pope preaches.

The Pope said that not only should we give money to beggars but reach out and touch their hand, even exchange a few words. We must not ignore or prejudge them.

Giving something to someone in need is always right, Francis said, and should be done with “compassion and respect.” He doesn’t want us to absent-mindedly flip some pocket change and keep on walking as if it we were contributing to the tip jar at the Italian Coffee Company.

“Tossing money and not looking in their eyes is not a Christian way of behaving,” Francis said.

Even before I read the Pope’s exhortation I was offended by the Republican proposed reform of Obamacare, which looks like a reverse Robin Hood affair that would transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the rich in the form of tax breaks and not offer much to the needy.

According to an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office, millions of Americans would end up with no health insurance.

It reeks of contempt for the needy, in this case uninsured Americans. The Republicans’ logic is that government aid “deincentivizes” people from working and makes parasites out of them. It’s just a replay of the eternal battle between the job creators and the freeloaders.

Applied to beggars, some would likewise argue that giving them money only enables their alcoholism, laziness and irresponsible behavior. Better to just walk on by, as if your neglect will teach them a lesson. It might be good for them in the long run, however long that is.

Following Pope Francis’ exhortation, I’ll start carrying some coins, and start brief exchanges with beggars in San Miguel to hear bits of their story and what they are about. I don’t expect any revelations but just hope the beggars I approach won’t feel ignored or dismissed.

It might make me a more generous and sensitive person.

Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican spear-carrier in the charge to dismantle Obamacare, should get on his government-paid limo and travel outside Washington for a couple of weeks.

He should visit with the people who now rely on Obamacare—black, white, brown, destitute or working poor—to get some flesh-and-blood feedback about what would happen to those families if the draconian Republican health care reforms are implemented.

Ryan, a devout Roman Catholic, should heed the Pope’s exhortation. The experience might change his mind.

17 thoughts on “When Pope Francis spoke to me

  1. I always give something to the elderly here. Each outing I choose one to give to, and as I put the money in their hand I embrace their hand, speak to them, and bless the offering. I so wish I could sit and talk to them (I don't yet speak Spanish) and hear their story. I love what the Pope said and believe in sharing our good fortune it increases it. Is that why I do it? Of course not. However I cannot pass these beautiful people on my way to breakfast (for example) and wonder if they will eat today. I must be sure at least one will.


  2. I rarely get deeply touched by what a blog offers. Although I am planning my way to MX as soon as a few family obligations get resolved. I read blogs to assist me in trying to limit my options but your post today touched me. I agree with you so much about what's going on in the US and what we can do with a little to help. I lived in DC for years Georgetown and always had change in my pockets to help. I have had some significant financial issues recently but your post reminded me I still have been blessed. Hank you Stan Rinehart


  3. Helping out someone who has less makes you feel good, and I don't think it's just a matter of puffing oneself up or thinking one is better than others. Yesterday I put my plan into practice and gave 20 pesos to a streetlight beggar with one eye and a broken arm (true). I shook his good hand and looked him in the eye and I'm sure he was grateful for the money but also that someone took the time to pay attention to him. Another time a refugee from Honduras was wandering the Ancha looking for food money and I took him to a nearby eatery and bought him a sandwich. I thought the guy was going to start crying. I could have turn away from this guy for being a beggar, being dirty and smelly or being an undocumented immigrant, probably headed for the U.S. I couldn't help him with his personal hygiene or his immigration status, but at least i helped him eat. I think it's just a matter of giving without prejudice, as the Pope said. Thanks for your comment.al


  4. Ten Pesos is easily given, and goes a long way for a person in need. When Shelagh gave a beggar some change last winter, she was thanked and told that she would pray for her…


  5. About a year ago I ran into a nun in full habit who was waiting in the blazing sun for a bus on the road that goes by our house. So I loaded her stuff in the back of the pickup and took it to her destination which was actually beyond our house. When we got there she thanked and blessed me so many times I thought I was going to go to heaven right there. Thanks for your comment.


  6. Back in 1998, I traveled to SMA for the first time. I knew one of the six women who we traveled with – she had been a long time friend. The other women had never been to Mexico. Two were obnoxious and refused to give money to an old man who walked up to our van as we were going to head to Guanajuato. The van driver, got out, gave money to the man, took his hand and then got back in the van. He told me quietly, “We do not give to the children because they can work, but we always give to the elderly because without them and their work, we would not be here” I've never forgotten his words and he became a lifelong friend of mine. I am no longer a practicing Catholic, but Pope Francis is one in a million, to put it mildly!


  7. Anonymous

    Its unfortunate that we are deluged with stereotypes and mis information before coming to Mexico, but your article and some of the comments are a very much needed reminder as to how wonderful and giving the people of Mexico are … and how I need to do better in following their example. Thank you for the inspiration blog


  8. The health coverage provided to the “needy” by Obamacare is paid for with cash strong-armed from successful citizens who get no say whatsoever in whether they wish to pony up or not. It's a system that only the “needy” (I use quote marks because some are needy, many are not) and Fidel Castro could love.The Founding Fathers are spinning in their tombs.


  9. Hey, say what you want but leave Fidel out of this. That sob is dead. The successful citizens you mention I believe are all plutocrats. They can afford it. Now go out in Patzcuaro and give something to the beggars out there, and don't forget to shake their hand and talk to them, like the Pope says.al


  10. Barbara: You have so many stories in your head you ought to write a book, before you get old and forget them. Thank you for sharing this one. Hope to bump into you in Texas.


  11. Do you have it intentionally set up here so it's impossible to reply to a reply of of yours? If not, then I recommend Disqus to you. Easy to install and more user-friendly, as they say.Yes, Fidel is dead, thank God. Raul is not, alas.The hard-working Americans strong-armed into financing Obamacare would be amused to know you consider them plutocrats. As for giving to beggars here where I live, I do exactly that on frequent occasion. It is my choice, as helping the needy always should be. “Giving” should be left to churches, charities, etc. It should not be government extortion.In your heart of hearts, you know that.Really, consider Disqus. It's great.


  12. You say the Congressional Budget Office claims the new healthcare system (TrumpCare, let's call it) will leave “millions of Americans” with no medical coverage. Since the ObamaCare replacement is still on the drawing board, no one knows what it will be, and that includes the CBO. Kind of silly to predict the effects of something that has not been revealed yet, don't you think?Fact is that such pronouncements, wherever one finds them, is simply more anti-Trump hysteria. I say we should wait till the replacement plan is announced, and THEN draw conclusions that will not be drawn from thin air.


  13. You're right, though I don't think the Congressional Budget Office is part of a hysterical anti-Trump campaign. The final Trumpcare formula is far from finished, as we can see from Paul Ryan's trial balloon which didn't even get off the ground. So we should withhold our cheering or screaming until we're closer to a finished product. In fact, the whole federal budget proposed by Trump is just an opening shot that will be drastically changed by both parties.But even if one objects to Obamacare, the goal should be to be sure that every single person has some baseline coverage and access to medical attention. What I see instead is politicians trying to destroy rather than improve Obamacare and coming up with nothing in its place.al


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