“Pope Francis And Pro Bono Publico”
Listening to Pope Francis last week as he made his way from Washington to New York to Philadelphia, one could be forgiven for imagining he was a poverty lawyer in robes. In these deeply historical cities, each with its own set of contemporary urban problems, his itinerary included a telling mix of secular venues: the White House, U.S. Capitol and U.N., counter-balanced by a city jail and a soup kitchen, where he had lunch with some of Washington’s neediest residents. He could have dined with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but chose to listen to their constituents instead. The first three sites are not just symbols but engines of the law; the last two are overcrowded daily reminders that in a land of laws, not all are served equally.
If there is such a thing as higher law, Pope Francis’s trip reminded us that its imperative begins in the lowest of places, like ghettoes, jails, slums and shelters, where the toll of poverty is laid bare. It is this toll that pro bono lawyers and their legal services allies confront, in smaller ways. They win individual battles but are overwhelmed; too often feeling like they are losing the war, but drawing on that experience to advocate for changes in law and policy to alleviate patterns of deprivation and depredation.