Wednesdays and Saturdays have become favorite days at Our Lady Queen of Angels Convent in East Harlem. These are the days that we cook 30 hot meals and go out in pairs around lunchtime to take them to the homeless. Since it is not possible to have people come in to our soup kitchen right now, we go out (with masks and gloves, of course).
Today we went looking for the homeless on 125th Street near the subway station. We saw a group of about six or seven people either sitting on the sidewalk or leaning up against the building, some clearly suffering from mental illness and others with obvious physical disabilities. As we emerged from the car, before we could even reach for the food in the back seat, a couple of them came walking over, and another, sitting on the ground, beamed from ear to ear. “Sister, Sister, you’re here,” and, “Sister, I’m hungry,” and, “Over here…I need food,” came from one after another. Expressions of gratitude were plentiful as we passed out the bags, each containing a hot meal, water, snacks and a pair of socks. More and more people began to surface, and it didn’t take more than 5 minutes to distribute all the food we had. As we were returning to the car, having said our goodbyes, I overheard a few in the group talking, “The Church…the Church…it’s the Church.”
These words, “the Church…the Church,” keep echoing in my mind. As Franciscans, it is our privileged place in the Church, you could say, to make the Church present to the poor, to show them that the Church is their home. They may not have a physical home, but they do have a place to belong. They are wanted. They are welcome. They are even needed. They have a Mother who sees them and knows their needs, who cares for them and provides for them, not just physically but also spiritually – eternally. Each one of them is unique, essential, a gift of God, a treasure.
Last week, we were passing out meals on 116th Street, and a man who regularly comes to our soup kitchen announced enthusiastically to his friends after receiving a meal, “Food…from the Church!” As I walked away, I smiled. He was right. His Mother, the Church, made him lunch.
Sr. Maria Teresa, CFR