Posted April 16, 2008 in MH Edmonton AB:
The Hope of the Poor

by Lasha Morningstar, for Western Catholic Reporter.

From time to time, a newspaper or magazine publishes something about one of our houses. This article, which appeared in Edmonton’s diocesan newspaper, sheds light on a hidden facet of the life of street people.

Hope is not in the palette of emotions one would expect to find in the desperately poor homeless men seeking help at Marian Centre.

But stop and look through the eyes of Patrick Stewart, the director of Marian Centre. Patrick, the other Madonna House staff, and a cadre of dedicated volunteers prepare meals and distribute donated clothing for the inner city’s street people.

Most who come for help are men, men whom the staff call "Brother Christophers" because Christ is in them. These men come to the centre with hope in their hearts.

As Patrick sees it, "So many of the people who come here live so immediately, so presently. When you are that poor, you are kind of living day to day which is not a bad way to live in some ways.

"Each meal, people are extremely grateful for. A place to sleep, people are extremely grateful for. A pair of gloves. A pair of pants. Each thing has so much meaning."

Pope Benedict touched on this in his latest encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), when he talked about practicing hope.

"A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through compassion is a cruel and inhumane society."

The Marian Centre practices the pope’s prescribed hope.

Yes, some Brother Christophers are paralyzed by their poverty. "Certainly there is misery in the lives of people who come here—real misery, real hardship, real pain," says Patrick. "but at the same time, I don’t see a lot of people in despair. There are probably some. But people in other places probably have despair, too."

Patrick cast his mind back—back to when he lived the envied life of the American upper class.

"The way I was in that culture—you have so much—you are always looking off into the future for the next big thing without paying attention to each little thing that is coming your way. Now I live with a lot more gratitude."

The other ingredient in this mix of Marian Centre humanity is the volunteers.

"The volunteers who come each day to help, develop a closeness with us," says Patrick. "Our relationships with them are really as important as those with the guys who come off the street. We are all kind of doing this together—joyfully working side by side."

When he talks about the goodness of the volunteers, Patrick includes the people who send money and donations. "They share in the faith of the Lord, the common concern, and the desire to serve."

Then there are the Brother Christophers. "The gratitude of the people who come and the joy that they bring into our house, it’s gosh—big!" enthuses Patrick. "It’s really big. It’s not a sad place. There are sad moments at times, but again I have lived in a lot more downbeat and unhappy places, in a lot more prosperity and among seemingly good, together people."

Ask what creates hope and Patrick’s response is immediate. "Faith. Faith that good is awaiting me."

Pope Benedict’s Spe Salvi suggests, "A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me anymore, God will listen to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God."

So how would a Brother Christopher define hope?

Patrick asked Bernard last Saturday about hope. Bernard and his fellow Brother Christophers had just satisfied their hunger with an Italian meal prepared by women from the Santa Maria Goretti Parish and other volunteers. They had also asked for and been given warm clothing, and their bone-cold bodies were finally warm.

Bernard’s first response to the question "what is hope" was, "Life is hope," He said that as long as you are living and not just "treading water"—really living—that’s hope.

Bernard left, returning to the bitter world of homelessness. Hours later he returned, telling Patrick that the Lord told him, "Hope is knowing you are homeless but not hopeless."

Bernard’s final definition of hope came after two more hours in the brutal cold, when he knocked on the centre’s door and told Patrick, "Hope is knowing that you’re homeless but not worthless.

—Used with permission from the Western Catholic Reporter, December 24, 2007


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