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Pope Francis invited to visit Vancouver's Downtown Eastside

03/16/2015 08:08 EDT | Updated 05/16/2015 05:59 EDT
A group of Vancouver residents has invited Pope Francis to visit the city's Downtown Eastside and two reserves.

It's asking the pope to help address issues of homelessness, poverty and marginalized people.

"There's a problem not being addressed that needs to be fixed," said Tom Beasley, a lawyer and a member of the United Church of Canada, who spearheaded the idea.

Beasley, Judy Graves, a  former City of Vancouver homeless advocate, and six others representing a broad interfaith community signed the letter of invitiation which arrived at the Vatican March 9.

"All of us recognized that during the two years he's been the Pope he's brought focus, hope and leadership to the marginalized," Beasley said. "He genuinely believes the poor and marginalized need assistance."

The group invited the Pope to walk the Downtown Eastside, engage in discussions, visit an urban reserve and a remote reserve and celebrate Mass from a barge in English Bay.

International spotlight

"Vancouver is one of the world's most beautiful cities with much wealth — yet its urban core [the Downtown Eastside] has large, growing numbers of people who are homeless and who have mental disabilities." the letter states. "Your presence and message will bring a spotlight internationally to those concerns."

The group has been working on the initiative for the past year. They suggested that the Pope visit "between the months of May to September, perhaps when you are next in North America."

The Pope is expected to visit the United States later this year.

Graves, who has been working in the Downtown Eastside since 1979, said she thinks the problems in the area and on remote reserves have gotten worse over the years.

"It's time to bring in someone who has a truly inspirational voice," she said, adding that the Pope appeals to people across all faiths and works for the oppressed.

"I believe this is something that can make a difference," Graves said. "I'd like him to come as soon as he can."

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