A recovering addict serves the vulnerable as Pope Francis instructs

Anna Batten washes the feet of addicts in Harrowgate Park.

ON THE DAY Pope Francis told the world to care for the most vulnerable, former drug addict Anna Batten was on her knees washing the feet of addicts in Kensington's Harrowgate Park.

One of the people was Tiffany, a woman who could have easily been 20 as she could 40 but whose true age is masked by her heroin use.

While Batten prepared to wipe her feet with peroxide, a young man came up to ask if she could do his feet next but then walked away to have an older man shoot heroin into his neck.

"Older addicts do that sometimes," Batten said. "They can find veins where no one else can."

Anna Batten, a former addict, washes the feet of addicts inside Harrowgate Park.

A video posted by notesfromhel (@notesfromhel) on Sep 24, 2015 at 3:00pm PDT

Harrowgate Park is where many addicts spend their days and nights, shooting up on the benches, nodding off on the patchy grass, plotting the next hustle for "one more" hit.

At times, parallel universes coincide. A little boy with a Ninja Turtle backpack walks past a young woman doing drugs on a bench. Men and women who look like they've been clawing at their faces sit mesmerized by the back and forth motion of swings holding giggling children. A man walks his dog among needle wrappers.

The people who hang out at the park are used to do-gooders offering food, clothing, prayer. Salvation.

But the sight of 64-year-old Batten washing the feet of people most look past? That was enough to cause people to stop and stare in a place where they try not to do either.

"You're washing people's feet?" a woman holding a crack pipe asked Thursday. Batten was washing the young man's feet now. He was looking down at a needle in his hand.

"You know who else cleaned people's feet?" Batten asked.

"Jesus," said the woman.

"I used to go to church," the woman said, "I know my Bible . . . I just don't know how to follow it." She laughs. Batten laughs, too.

Everyone knows Anna. This was her neighborhood for most of her life, and even though she's moved away, she comes back to work with community and church groups that help the hungry and poor and addicted in her old stomping grounds.

She was one of them, until she found God.

Now, with the pope coming to Philadelphia, her service has taken on even deeper meaning because it should, right? Because it's the whole point of Pope Francis' visit - to not just be of the faith, but of service.

Will the message stick, and will it reach places like Kensington?

"I pray that it does," Batten said.

But that is not why Batten is at the park as the sun begins to fade, washing feet as Jesus did for his apostles before he was crucified, as Pope Francis did in April during a Holy Week ritual to show his willingness to serve.

Batten began washing people's feet a few months ago when she was handing out clean socks and noticed the addicts' blistered and infected feet. Some have cellulitis, a common skin infection among intravenous drug users.

As she put bandages around the young man's blistered toes, she noticed a red blotch on his leg.

"This doesn't look good," she said. She tells him where he can get it looked at. She tells him she will check on him next time. He will be there, he said.

He probably will. Everyday there are new faces, younger faces, like Ashley. Sweet Ashley. Still pretty. Still healthy looking from afar.

She overdosed twice in three weeks. One time, accidentally.

Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas