Not long ago, Pope Francis said he wants “shepherds who smell like the sheep” – that is, people who will serve where they are needed. In the early 1980s, I was honored to be one of the “sheep” who helped meet the needs of Boston’s growing homeless population.
I remember our breadline at St. Anthony Shrine. It was a small beginning, and our neighbors, the local businesses, were quite supportive. Every day the homeless people themselves helped clean up the street. Before long, Amtrak began supplying day-old sandwiches. We soon realized our guests needed more than we were able to provide. They needed a place where they could feel safe and supported and have all of their needs met. They needed St. Francis House, and with many sheep working together, that vision became a reality. To me, St. Francis House has always been more than a place of healing. It’s a place where I can meet Jesus in poor and marginalized people. It is one way to live the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
Something noteworthy happened on opening day back in 1984, something that did not make the papers but is still worth remembering 30 years later. One homeless man looked at all the well-dressed people on the podium and remarked, “If Jesus were present he would be standing down here, with us.” Jesus was there in solidarity with the helpers as well as the helped. He still is.