LAST Monday, a parishioner asked me to administer the Sacrament of Anointing to his brother, who is suffering from cancer. So after celebrating the eighty-thirty Mass that morning, I asked our seminarian intern, Hiew, to drive me to the sick man’s apartment in the LA area by Historic Filipinotown.
As we passed the 101 Freeway bridge on Alvarado Street, Hiew and I could not help but notice the city’s ubiquitous homelessness. Makeshift plastic tents, garbage, and litter of all kinds, including chairs, tables, and soiled clothes, surround many street corners.
Homeless people sit by stores and food joints, either asleep or eating food from generous restaurant owners.
“It has gotten worst,” I told Hiew. “I lived in this area during the 1980s, and there was none of this homeless problem here,” I added.
Then we continued talking about the mayor’s response to this problem, the varied causes — from mental and drug issues to loss of jobs and high cost of housing and rent — and what we can do as a society and church.
It’s quite overwhelming to think about a solution to it. We could give homeless people some food or money, but the fact remains that the problem is systemic and beyond one’s reach. We could convict ourselves about not doing much, having better lives than them, such as living in a lovely apartment, but the problem is complex.
So what can we do? I’d say that we keep talking about it as a church community and look at the small and concrete ways we do to help alleviate the homeless people’s suffering.
For example, for years now, our church, through the efforts of St. Vincent De Paul Conference, has assisted the needy that come to our parish on payments for rent, electric bills, bus passes, medicines, groceries, as well as funeral services. Its members also organize food drives, feed the homeless in other churches and shelters, and give out McDonald or Subway gift cards.
On Fridays, a Hispanic prayer group gathers meat, vegetables, beans, rice, and other donated food items from nearby grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and distribute them to the needy.
For years before the COVID-19 pandemic, our hospitality ministry would be part of an inter-church organization to prepare lunch for the poor. We are only encountering restrictions during the pandemic of handing out food that the group has postponed doing this project.
Our parish has participated in many archdiocesan and national efforts to address poverty and homelessness through second collections such as the Cardinal McIntyre Fund, Campaign for Human Development, Missionary Cooperation, and National Needs Combined.
Without a doubt, the Together In Mission Appeal has been one of the successful ways that we do to help hundreds of poor parishes and schools in the archdiocese. We’ve heard testimonies from pastors and parents that received assistance from this program to help them maintain their parish and open their parochial school to provide a Catholic education to children from impoverished families.
We do what we can, but I know that there is a more significant challenge to do more to help our needy brothers and sisters, especially during this pandemic.
We’ll keep hearing prophetic voices in our community that urge not to ignore poverty and homelessness around us. There are no easy solutions, but we will keep reminding ourselves of the words of Isaiah, which our Lord Jesus at the beginning of his ministry even quoted:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners. to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”
May this Advent and Christmas inspire us to help in whatever way to end poverty and homelessness in our cities, country, and other parts of the world!
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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Fr. Rodel “Odey” Balagtas is the pastor of Incarnation Church in Glendale, California.