Sept. 21, 2015 | Maria Shriver

Serviam. I will serve. That is the motto of Ursuline Academy, the Catholic high school I attended in Dallas, Texas. It was also the ethos of the Catholicism that I grew up with. I was taught — in school, in church, in my home — that service is a form of holiness, and I believe that the philanthropic foundation my husband and I run is the logical extension of this lesson.

Pope Francis has put the fight against poverty at the center of his papacy. His words and actions remind me of the strong link between faith and work. I am proud to stand with him as a member of the Church, joining the global community of people committed to improving life for “the least of these.” So many of the partners in this community are people of faith — many different faiths, I might add — and they express their faith in action. We are told in the Gospel of Mark not to hide our light under a bushel, but I find that many people who have never read Mark take seriously the injunction to give their light to all who are in the house.

[Read more essays on Faith, by Deepak Chopra, Martha Beck, Pema Chodron and many more Architects of Change, as part of this special series]

One of the hallmarks of Pope Francis is that he listens, truly listens, to the poor. In the past 15 years, I’ve tried to do the same as I’ve sought to answer the hard questions about poverty — why are people poor and what are the best ways to help them lift themselves up? From those conversations and from the evidence, one thing I have learned is that it’s impossible to study poverty without studying the unique predicament of women and girls in societies around the world.

Women and girls are more likely to be poor, and more likely to suffer from the consequences of poverty, like ill health and the lack of education. So when the Pope talks about the fight against poverty, he is also talking about a better life for women and girls in particular.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest ‘I’ve Been Thinking’ essay] 

And there’s more. Because women and girls are caretakers who give so much to their families and their communities, empowered women and girls are actually one of the best resources we have in the fight against poverty for everyone. When women and girls are healthy and educated and have the power to make decisions, the decisions they make build the foundations for a thriving future for the world. On this issue too, the Pope has been a champion, commenting specifically on gender inequality and the “scandal” of wage differences between men and women. Pope Francis is helping millions of people make the connection between women and girls and the fight against poverty.

I have decided to devote the rest of my life to fighting poverty and pursuing equality for women and girls. It is what my head and my heart tell me to do. It is how I can follow through on the promise I made as a girl at Ursuline Academy — to serve. In this era we are blessed — not only those of us who are Catholic, but all of us — to have Pope Francis to help us understand what it means to serve.