Saturday, May 1, 2010

Entertaining Angels Unaware

Every Friday night the brothers go out with a team from St. John's parish in Sao Paulo to distribute food, water, dry socks and blankets to the homeless. Nine of us squeezed into a VW van, which was loaded with huge vats of soup, plastic bottles of
water. we sat on folded blankets. They follow basically the same route in and around the neighborhood near the Anglican/Episcopal parish of St. John, stopping at every heap of refuse or muddle of blankets to shout "Good Evening!" Soon enough a beaming face would appear, and the team busily gave them basic survival supplies. Twice we were warned off with an expletive; but nobody blamed them--sleep is precious enough in a noisy place like Sao Paulo. The amazing thing to me was how delighted most of the people were to see us. One man wanted his picture taken with us. By 2:30 a.m. we'd given away all we had. We learned that other outreach teams have been visiting the same people; welcome news in one way, but it will mean a revised strategy.

Brothers are involved in direct service to the homeless in every SSF province around the world. Some are also involved in citizen's organizations that work to end poverty. In New Zealand I was asked if my vow of poverty meant I liked poor people
to be poor. Far from it. Degrading poverty is a sin. Religious poverty is about radical sharing. At every meal I pray: "...and make us mindful of the needs of each other and the poor." Some people have challenged us about enabling addicts; we
should be getting them to face the consequences of their actions and pushing them towards sobriety. Yes; but if they are dead from exposure or starvation, what is the good in that? In my own work with homeless people since 1983 I have learned that for
every "hopeless case" there is another ready to do the necessary hard work to get out of the bind of homelessness. But you just can't tell which is the one when you first meet.

We got up at noon, and I was feeling drained by the crazy sleep schedule. Then the door bell rang and three of Br. James' friends from across the street swept us off for a meal. Laughing, teasing, joking.
I felt I could have been in New York or
San Francisco--just got to crack the code of their lingo. But the bond of friendship, the joy of giving and receiving brightened the day.

As it did the night.