"The Poor you Will Always Have With You": Thinking Outside the "Homeless Ministry" Box.
Article written by Father Michael O'Loughlin and printed in the Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Church Eparchial News Letter:
When confronted with the reality of the "needy", the earliest Christians knew that the problem was too big for them, and so they didn't try to solve it...on their own. If a man desires to change bread and wine into the Body of Blood of Christ, he must be "ordained" by God to participate in this super-human act. The Apostles realized that if they truly wanted to help the needy, they needed to be similarly called and empowered (ordained) by God to do so. The first deacons (from diakonos, or servant) were ordained to serve the hungry widows in the Holy Land (Acts 6:1-6). This was not a job that just anyone could accomplish. A vocation from God, and a blessing from the Church, were necessary to serve in a way these needy women deserved. We should be humbled and empowered by this reality. Humbled because we realize our inability to help the poor on our own, and empowered because in the face of this inability, God makes us able.
Clarissa "Glitterbear" Salazar has been in and out of homelessness her whole life. An abusive family member made living on the street a better life than living at home. Some nights, a place to get out of the cold and receive a healthy, filling meal seemed like something only the privileged got to enjoy. The state took away her kids because she was only able to give them the same life she had. Her story tears at the heartstrings of any Christian who desires to help, but knows that true help is beyond their ability. After meeting her, members of Holy Protection of the Mother of God in Denver, CO pleaded with God to give them the ability to serve her in the way she deserved.
This success story began with the help of parishioner Tanya Cangelosi and her organization "Denver Homeless Ministries" (DHM). Always trying to come up with unique ways of allowing the homeless to realize their own dignity, and use this realization to lift them out of poverty, DHM's benefactors, many from Holy Protection, provided Clarissa with a mission trip to Rome. A trip to Europe is only for the privileged right? What homeless person could invite you to look through their photos of St. Peters, the Coliseum, a closeup of Pope Francis, and a plate of Pasta Carbonara from Abruzzi. Clarissa Salazar can! She can also tell the story of when she was able to give her leftovers from a laid-back evening at an Italian restaurant to a homeless man who was as happy to meet a homeless woman from the US as he was to receive the food.
The fact that this was a trip empowered by God was brought home to Father Michael O'Loughlin, pastor of Holy Protection Church and willing chaplain for the trip, when they went to a homeless shelter in Rome to assist Mother Teresa's Sisters feed the local poor. They arrived at the convent and were greeted with an appreciative smile and a "Grazie" ("Thank you"). They were then led to the chapel and told to pray. The Sisters had enough help, and didn't need any more volunteers to hand out food. Prayers, the Sisters knew, were just as important as the food and drink.
Some might say that the tickets could have been sold, and the money given for food or a motel for a month or so. "The poor you will always have with you" said Christ (Matthew 26:11). Clarissa learning that she is worthy of a trip to Rome just may help her to further realize that she was a child of God, and redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross, long before she was a homeless woman missing her children, and sleeping in the cold.
(N.B. Inspired by her preparations for the trip, Clarissa moved into an apartment days before the trip, and regained custody of her children shortly after it.)