Caring for the Homeless Community in a Time of Need
As a deacon in an urban parish, I have routine contact with the homeless in our community. Our parish is close to an overnight shelter, a drop-in center, soup kitchen, and a community pantry which operate under a Christian collaborative called Cornerstone. The Cornerstone group was started by several Catholic parishes in collaboration with local Christian churches that saw the need to support God's people in need. Over time it has grown to be a valuable ecumenical ministry in our town.
In addition to encountering the homeless in the outreach ministries, several of the homeless come to Mass on weekends and some on week days. The parish community has been very open to welcoming the homeless into our community whenever we gather. The relationship is based on our commitment to love as Christ loves and many of those who are served are of different faiths or of none at all.
In the Apostolic Letter, Misorericordia et misera, Francis writes, "Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions." He states, "The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognizing the inviolable dignity of human life" (#18).
No one needs more reminder of the loss of solidarity with others and the devaluation of their human dignity than the thousands of incarcerated men and women in our jails and prisons. As a volunteer chaplain for 16 years at a high-security prison in Ohio, I was told many times that while we ministered to only a small percent of the inmates, that all inmates benefited by seeing us walk across the compound because our presence said that people on the outside had not forgotten them.
How has God used you as his minister of mercy to those imprisoned?