The wonder of life is all about us. It’s just that sometimes we don’t see it…until someone with a gift of sight brings it into focus for us. A giftedness rooted in the Gospel.
Such giftedness was apparent at two recent award presentations.
One was on Oct. 19 in Utica, New York, where the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL) honored Deacon Gil Nadeau and the volunteers of Mother Marianne’s West Side Kitchen with its Community Support Award for feeding the poor and homeless.
The other was a week later in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the U.S. Secular Franciscan Order, during its national gathering, honored Franciscan Friar David Buer, OFM, with the National Peace Award for his work with the homeless and migrants.
Deacon Gil recounted how a simple altar call to help serve the hungry of the neighborhood resulted in volunteers immediately stepping forward. He made the appeal after referring to the Gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain, where the apostles Peter, James and John realized it was time to come down off the mountain and get to work.
“From the time our first volunteer coordinators sat down to plan this ministry, it was 18 days until we opened our doors. Since then we have served some 65,000 meals. This is an especially significant number since we serve only lunches.”
A week later, Brother David told how he was inspired to work among the poor and homeless. A passage in Matthew’s Gospel “shot through me” – the one where Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” And St. Francis of Assisi, the spoiled son of a wealthy merchant, had a life-changing moment when he encountered a leper on the road: Instead of giving him wide berth, Francis embraced the leper. “Who are the lepers of today?” Brother David asked. “Who are the marginalized people?”
Brother David entered the religious order later in life, making his permanent profession in 1996 – a year before he arrived in Las Vegas, where he established Poverello House, a daytime refuge for the homeless. In 2002 he established a second Poverello House in Henderson, NV. He also went on a two-week vigil and fast in Las Vegas, living in a tent on a vacant lot to publicize the need for more shelters. A group of homeless men befriended and protected him during the vigil. “It put me in solidarity with those who have less.” Next he was assigned to Tucson, AZ, where in 2008 he established another Poverello House and where, for the past five summers, he set up Cooling Centers at two churches six days a week (three days at each church). The homeless could escape the oppressive summer heat in an air conditioned center and find food, cold beverages and a place to relax and read.
Through the work of the soup kitchen, along with his hosting meetings of the Mohawk Valley Homeless and Housing Coalition, Deacon Gil’s eyes were opened to another unmet need – homeless youth and young men.
It has taken nearly two years – a little longer than the 18-day launch of the soup kitchen – but Deacon Gil (with his team of fellow deacons, volunteers and staff, and parish, community and diocesan support) is ready to open John Bosco House on Jan. 31, the feast day of St. John Bosco. The shelter will initially house six young men, aged 18 to 21, with around-the-clock supervision. Eventually, he said, the shelter may house up to 18.
Located in the former St. George’s Church rectory, just a few blocks east of the soup kitchen, “the program will provide a safe home-like atmosphere and life-skills training,” he told St. Joseph-St. Patrick parishioners recently at Sunday Mass. “The goal is to make these young men self-supporting and transition them back into society.”
“These young men urgently need help,” he added. “They’re living on the street, or they’re crashing” wherever they can find a place for the night.
In Arizona, Brother David told some 80 regional ministers and observers representing 14,000 Secular Franciscans across the U.S.: “It’s my experience that we can expect God’s blessing when we bring these people -- the poor, the homeless, the migrants -- into our circle of love.”
Deacon Gil put it another way for parishioners: “How will Jesus remember us…if we could help the homeless?”