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Despite GOP Opposition, Pope Francis Should Emphasize Poverty During His Philadelphia Visit

08/15/2014 11:26 am ET | Updated Jul 02, 2015

The pope of North Philly? It has a nice ring to it.

Last month, it was announced that Pope Francis will likely visit Philadelphia in September 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, the goal of which is to strengthen the sacred bonds of family across the world.

The conference theme is "Love is our mission: the family fully alive."

However, many families in America and around the world are struggling with poverty and can't make ends meet.

The pope's visit will be a great showcase for Philadelphia, a world-class city featuring many great tourist attractions. I hope the pope will tie family issues to the problems of poverty, income inequality, and the suffering of the poor. Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs are a great example of the haves and the have-nots, and the pope should be exposed to it.

Not everyone is happy with the pope's focus on income inequality. It was reported by The Hill that Congress is stalled on passing a resolution to honor the pope, allegedly due to the pope's being too liberal and sounding like President Obama when he denounced trickle-down economics. Only 19 of the bill's 221 sponsors are Republicans.

Despite Republican opposition to the pope's message, he should use his trip to America as a way to emphasize the need to improve the income inequality gap.

Ever since he was selected as pope and took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty, Pope Francis has emphasized the need to address poverty and income inequality.

During his trip to Brazil last year to celebrate World Youth Day, the pope visited the poverty-stricken favelas and told crowds that wealthy people needed to do more to eradicate the vast gap between the world's haves and have nots.

Philly is much more than gleaming Center City

Like most major American cities, Philadelphia has two tales. Philadelphia features great tourist attractions like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Reading Terminal Market, the Art Museum, the Constitution Center, luxury hotels, an enormous pro sports complex, performing arts centers, and hundreds of great restaurants -- all drawing civic attention and money from all over the world. There are neighborhoods with intense wealth, such as Rittenhouse Square, Society Hill, and Chestnut Hill.

However, many neighborhoods in Philadelphia share a tale of woe and despair. Philadelphia is frequently listed as the poorest big city in the United States. According to Census.gov, the median household income of Philadelphians from 2008 to 2012 was $37,016 and 26.2 percent of Philadelphians were below the poverty level from 2008 to 2012.

A November 2013 Philadelphia Weekly article by Randy LoBasso detailed the plight of the 19133 ZIP code in North Philadelphia, which had a median household income of $13,828, an unemployment rate of 10 percent, and 50 percent of the households receiving food stamps.

Philadelphia public schools are underfunded and struggling to survive. Many area schools have a graduation rate of lower than 50 percent. According to an April 2013 CBS Philly report, there were 11 schools graduating over 90 percent of their students and 14 schools with less than a 40 percent graduation rate.

Earlier this year, as part of his focus on income inequality, President Obama announced that the federal government would create "promise zones" in poor areas in Philadelphia, San Antonio, Los Angeles, southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

In Center City Philadelphia, the Main Line, and Chestnut Hill, the income levels are generally high. In contrast, depressed areas such as West Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and Southwest Philadelphia generally have low income and high poverty rates. In between are South Philadelphia, Roxborough, Manayunk, and Northeast Philadelphia, which are more middle class.

The pope and the throng of visitors need to see all three of these worlds.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, next September's World Meeting of Families gathering will likely draw around 300,000 people per day and over 1 million for a Papal Mass. During his visit, the pope will likely speak at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway downtown, but it's important that the pope and the worldwide visitors get to see the negative side of Philadelphia as well and visit the impoverished areas. A parade up North Broad Street might work.

Hopefully, the pope's trip will lead American politicians to get on the same page and have a major push to focus on fighting poverty.

This article was first published in www.newsworks.org , which is WHYY's website.

UPDATE: It was announced that the Pope's itinerary will include a visit to a
Philadelphia prison