Papal trip expenses

Q. The pope will visit the United States, and he will speak about the treatment of the poor. Before his visit, many millions of dollars will probably be spent to pretty up the churches in three cities, as well as the surrounding areas.

Some time ago, the same thing happened in San Antonio. Whole neighborhoods were cleaned up just for the pope to drive through them. Could not this money be better spent for direct help to the poor and the homeless? - A reader in Arkansas

A. No doubt there are considerable expenditures associated with papal trips - both for the preparation of sites and for security. Those costs are shared by Catholic communities in the host areas and by municipal governments (as with welcoming any public figure or celebrity.)

The hope is that direct contact with the pope will produce notable benefits - increased Mass attendance, growth in religious vocations, etc. - and such results have been documented regularly with papal travel in the past (notably, during the pontificate of St. John Paul II.)

Now comes a new metric under the heading of "papal effect." A poll by Zogby Analytics has shown that one year into the papacy of Pope Francis, a fourth of American Catholics have increased their charitable donations during that 12-month period. Seventy-seven percent of those donors attribute their increased giving to the message and example of Pope Francis himself.

Concern for the poor has been a consistent highlight of the message of Pope Francis. (He said in "The Joy of the Gospel," for example, "Not to share one's wealth with the poor is to steal from them.")

Consistent with that emphasis, the pope has focused on poverty in scheduling his upcoming trip to the U.S.

In Washington he will meet with homeless people at a downtown church; in New York, he will speak with immigrant families at a school in East Harlem; in Philadelphia he will visit a prison.

The expectation of the Vatican - and the hope of the Catholic world - is that such visibility will be leveraged into increased concern for the poor and attention to their needs.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015