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.
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.”
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.