It all started when I read an article about Popes Francis’ initiative to provide showers for the homeless. One homeless person reportedly said, “They treat us like friends.”
Here in Magadan, Russia, we don’t have many homeless, but we have some folks with handicaps who need care.
Serozha came to us about six months ago rather unkempt and obviously hungry. The problem was he came just before I began the 11 a.m. Mass on Sunday. What to do? We have four lovely church bells that do not get rung regularly because the persons I appoint often come late. So Serozha that morning became our official bell ringer. He has come every Sunday now at 8 a.m. to help get ready for the Mass. He lights the vigil lights before the statues and sets out the music books. He, of course, has some tea and goodies to hold himself over for a better lunch after Mass.
Our parish “mercy group” realized that Sunday was a good day to feed the poor. So they organized a small lunch for those who come to Mass. We cook enough on Friday to warm up for lunch.
Our Luda, who once lived on the streets, warms up the food, cuts the bread and gets the lunch ready and does the dishes afterwards. Now Serozha needed a shower, so the pope’s shower idea came to mind. Why not do the same here? We have a small room in our garage where we store tools and it has a sink. Well, with the initiative of parishioners and our Muslim friend Alosha who has golden hands (a Russian saying for someone who can build anything), we created our Pope Francis shower room.
The day we finished it Serozha brought a friend of his, Sasha, to Mass. He had not showered or changed his clothes for a long time. Some parishioners came to me and let me know of their displeasure. What to do? I gave Serozha the duty to clean him up. As a parish we regularly collect good clothes to give away. With two volunteers from the mercy group we found Sasha a lovely set of clothes and boots. He then sat in the last pew, quite happy. And those who gave him a wide berth before Mass because of the odor now gave him the kiss of peace. He joined the folks for a small lunch after Mass and promised to come next Sunday to help. I think Saint John of the Cross said, ”Where there is no love, put love — and you will find love.” I think Serozha and Sasha would call us their friends. This is like Jesus’ saying, “I don’t call you servants anymore but friends.”
Jesus also said you must wash each other’s feet. So one time a year, on Holy Thursday, we have a ritual foot washing, I don’t think that would be enough for Jesus. I always wondered how we were to answer the command of Jesus to wash each other’s feet. I think we have an answer now. The blessing of the “Pope Francis room” happened this year on Pentecost Sunday when our eight college students from Franciscan University came for two months to teach English and share their faith.
The other great gift is our three Daughters of Charity who visit our grandmothers and care for some of the homebound. They have enthusiastically taken on the Pope Francis room. They will keep it clean and sanitized so people can be safe from infection and wash clothes and just be friends to the poor.
Let us call to mind the words of the writer of the Book of Hebrews, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”