WASHINGTON - Pope Francis made a previously unannounced
15-minute stop Sept. 23 at a Washington residence operated by
the Little Sisters of the Poor, where he met with about 45
Sister Constance Veit, communications director for the Little
Sisters, said the pope talked individually with each sister,
ranging in age from novices to 102-year-old Sister Marie
Mathilde, who is Colombian and spoke to the pope in Spanish.
Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told
reporters in Washington that evening that the papal visit was
intended as a sign of support for the Little Sisters' lawsuit
against the Obama administration's mandate that all employers
offer contraceptive coverage in their health plans or
participate in a religious "accommodation" that the sisters
But Sister Constance said Pope Francis made no mention of the
lawsuit during his visit. Rather, his message to the group
was about the Little Sisters' "mission to the elderly" and
"how important it is in a society that tends to marginalize
the elderly and the poor," she told Catholic News Service
"We were deeply moved by his encouraging words," she added.
The Little Sisters did not know about the visit until after
the pope's morning meeting at the White House with President
Barack Obama, Sister Constance said. Three Little Sisters of
the Poor, including Sister Constance, had been invited to
attend the ceremony on the South Lawn.
Sister Maria del Monte Auxiliadora, the mother general, was
told after the ceremony that Pope Francis wanted to make a
five-minute visit to the Jeanne Jugan Residence, located
across the street from the Basilica of the National Shrine of
the Immaculate Conception and not too far from the St. John
Paul II Seminary.
Pope Francis made the stop between the canonization of St.
Junipero Serra at the basilica and a visit to the seminary,
run by the Archdiocese of Washington.
Because his visit was so brief, the pope was not able to meet
any of the home's residents, Sister Constance said. The visit
ended up lasting about 15 minutes, she said.
In addition to the 12 nuns who live and work at the Jeanne
Jugan Residence, sisters from other homes operated by the
Little Sisters of the Poor and the order's postulants were
invited to the meeting, Sister Constance said.
The Jeanne Jugan Residence provides independent living,
assisted living and nursing home care to low-income seniors.
Although it currently has 80 to 90 residents, it is
undergoing renovations and will upon completion reach full
capacity of 100 residents, Sister Constance said.