On Thursday Pope Francis said that abandoned children and exploited sex workers forced to live on the street are a “shameful reality” in modern society, and encouraged efforts to find more concrete ways to help them. “(These) sad realities…are the result of indifference, poverty, family and social violence, and human trafficking,” the Pope said Sept. 17. “They involve the pain of marital separations and the birth of children out of wedlock, frequently doomed to a life of vagrancy.” Children and women subjected to life on the street, he said, “are not numbers or ‘packets’ to be traded; they are human beings, each with his or her own name and face, each with a God-given identity.” Francis’ words were addressed to participants in the International Symposium on the Pastoral Care of the Street. Held in Rome Sept. 13-17, the gathering was organized by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People. “No child chooses to live on the streets,” the Pope said, noting that even in a modern, globalized world numerous children are still robbed of both their childhood, rights and their future. A lack of legal protection and inadequate structures aggravates the situation, he said, since often these children have no true family or access to health care and education. Every child either abandoned or forced to live on the streets, many “at the mercy of criminal organizations, is a cry rising up to God,” Francis said. “It is an indictment of a social system which we have criticized for decades, but which we find hard to change in conformity with criteria of justice.” Pope Francis also said that it is “troubling” to see the increasing number of young women and girls who are “forced to earn a living on the street by selling their own bodies.” Frequently these women are victims of exploitation either by criminal organizations or even parents or family members, he observed, saying this is “a shameful reality in our societies, which boast of being modern and possessed of high levels of culture and development.” The Pope faulted widespread corruption and greed as the root causes for these injustices, which rob the innocent and vulnerable of having a dignified life, and help sustain criminal organizations. “No one can remain unmoved before the pressing need to safeguard the dignity of women, threatened by cultural and economic factors!” Francis told participants not to be discouraged by the depth of the challenges they face in their work, and encouraged them to turn to Christ, who always maintained a special love for the weak and outcast. The Church “cannot remain silent, nor can her institutions turn a blind eye to the baneful reality of street children and street women,” he said, and charged Christian communities in every country to get involved “at all levels” to everything that causes women and children to live on the streets. Mercy, the Pope noted, is “the supreme act by which God comes to meet us; it is the way which opens our hearts to the hope of an everlasting love.” Pope Francis concluded by praying for the participants and their work, before entrusting them to the care and intercession of Mary. “May the sweetness of her gaze accompany the efforts and the firm purpose of all those who care for street children and street women.”