Small band of friars and nuns in habits feed homeless in Los Angeles

Archbishop José Gomez invited Friars and Sisters of the Poor Jesus to Los Angeles earlier this year; four friars and four sisters set out for Skid Row every weekend offering free food and water to the homeless

Sister Maria Goretti gets a hug from a needy man who was given cold water. Nuns and Friars from a ministry in Brazil gather at St. Teresa of Avila to make sandwiches and put together sack lunches. They then travel to skid row in downtown Los Angeles and distribute them to the needy on August 18, 2018. (Photo by John McCoy)

Friar Benjamin of the Most Holy Trinity walked down Towne Avenue in Skid Row, one hand wheeling an ice chest filled with oranges and bottled water, the other clutching plastic bags of peanut butter and ham and cheese sandwiches, chips and fruit snacks.

Dressed in a full habit, a straw hat and brown flip-flops, Friar Benjamin, 42, along with a group of three other friars, one nun and three volunteers, shouted, “Cold water! Free food!” as they made their way along the tent-lined streets in the 90-degree summer heat.

They moved slowly, taking time to talk to people about their lives and to ask if they need a prayer. Tyrone Tankins, who has lived on Skid Row for the past eight months, asked them to pray for his grandmother, who is sick. Even though he survived cancer and a gunshot wound, he said, it’s his grandmother who needs help. 

Sister Acucena and Friar Lucaelo make sandwiches. Nuns and Friars from a ministry in Brazil gather at St. Teresa of Avila to make sandwiches and put together sack lunches. They then travel to skid row in downtown Los Angeles and distribute them to the needy on August 18, 2018. (Photo by John McCoy)

A woman requested a prayer for her car to be fixed. A man asked to sing for them.

By the time they finished circling the block— which took more than an hour — they had given away all their food and water, even the ice from the cooler. Together with another team of friars, nuns and volunteers, which walked a different block, they distributed 400 sandwiches to 200 homeless people on Skid Row in a single Saturday afternoon.

“It takes tenacity and compassion to do this,” said Jedobby Joriday, who lives on Skid Row and received food from the friars and sisters in August. “It’s not the grandeur of the things that you do, it’s the minute things, like if you answer a call for help.”

Friar Benjamin is a member of the Friars and Sisters of the Poor Jesus, a religious order founded in Brazil whose mission is to minister to the neediest and most marginalized members of society. 

After Archbishop José H. Gomez invited the order to Los Angeles earlier this year, a band of four friars and four sisters have set out for Skid Row every weekend, in hopes that free sandwiches and bottled water will be the first step in lifting the city’s growing homeless population out of poverty and despair.

“We’re trying to address not only the homeless situation, but also the problems we have as a society when we neglect the spiritual side,” said Friar Benjamin, who is from the southern state of Santa Catarina in Brazil. “We have no illusions that we’re going to solve it completely, but this is what we need to rediscover, if you will, Jesus’ message.”

Sisters Maria Goretti and Acucena are thanked by a man on skid row. (JOHN MCCOY/ANGELUS)

The religious order was founded in 2001 by a Brazilian priest named Father Gilson Sobreiro. Troubled by the violence, gang activity, addiction and poverty that he saw around him in the city of Sao Paulo, Father Sobreiro rented a house where drug addicted youths could live and recover. 

From this, the religious order spread to 12 countries, including Paraguay, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador, France and Canada. In 2012, they expanded to Kansas City, its first ministry in the United States.

“We live for the poor,” said Friar Benjamin. “We always go to the worst areas of the cities, places where you find more violence, drugs, gangs, prostitution, you name it.”

In Los Angeles, this means Skid Row, where more than 4,000 of the county’s nearly 53,000 homeless people live, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Father Brian Nunes, Archbishop Gomez’s priest secretary, said the decision to call on the religious order was a direct response to the city’s growing homelessness crisis.

“So many people are working on the issue of homelessness, but Archbishop Gomez wanted to make sure they’re cared for in a spiritual way,” he said.

Full story at Angelus News.

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Comments

  1. I saw tents on Hollywood Blvd when I was visiting LA. Any vacant lot becomes a tent city.
    Thank them for coming here to help.

  2. In order to better serve the poor, the friars and sisters also strive to live in poverty themselves. This means having minimal personal possessions — a few changes of clothes and no cell phones — sleeping on the floor, and eating only what has been donated to them. To make money, they make rosaries and other crafts that they sell in local parishes.
    “Especially now, in our world, people think that to be happy you have to have and have and have,” said Sister Maria Goretti of the Spiritual Infancy.

  3. “When people look at us, they’re reminded that we’re not made for this earth. People think, ‘Oh, you don’t have cell phones, Facebook, social media.’ But it’s also beautiful because we’re a sign for people who can’t live without the internet. We see society and how you can’t leave your phone. Our poverty can assure people that you can live without so many things.”
    This life of simplicity and poverty is what initially drew Sister Maria to the order.

  4. The article says that they make rosaries to sell in parishes. Do they take rosaries to skid row?
    I had wanted to take a small bag that had an icon, a rosary and booklet that says how to pray it and the Chaplet of Mercy. I did not get to because of time constraints. It is not cheap to do so but religious orders can get things donated that I can’t.
    Maybe they need Bibles, too. The Gideons have a small New Testament and Psalms. We can’t take their Bibles because they do not make a Catholic version. Some would need reader glasses for the small NT.
    i wish I was there to help.

    • From what I have heard, glasses bought at dollar stores and from the racks of drug stores work quite well for many people. Perhaps people can donate some of those if the sisters need them for distribution.

  5. Sister Maria Carlos-Valdez, vicar for women religious for the archdiocese, said that groups such as Lovers of the Holy Cross, Mary Queen of Heaven Missionaries, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the sisters at the Good Shepherd Shelter also minister to the city’s homeless, but often do so in lay clothing, so they aren’t always recognized as religious.
    “We now have a community in habits and we can see them working with the homeless, but that doesn’t mean that other communities have not done the same work,” she said.
    Habits are important. As a lay person I have often felt that having a uniform or something identifiable would help a lot.

  6. So how can we help this community? I live in Downey and a serious problem here!

  7. Sounds like another backdoor third-world immigration scam. Very clever, Your Grace.

    Oh, and sending females into these places is dangerous and stupid.

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