Story by Matthew Knight
PORTLAND, Ore.— On Thursday, Feb. 19, a group of Mount Angel first-year college seminarians attended a retreat at St. André Bessette Parish to raise awareness of homelessness in downtown Portland.
Run by the Congregation of Holy Cross, the core of St. André Bessette’s outreach ministry is a program called “morning hospitality,” which is offered six days a week and open to all in the community. Community members experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental illness, substance addiction, and other serious issues are welcomed by the parish for two hours of food, coffee, and fellowship. The parish also offers an art ministry, allowing guests to express themselves by drawing or painting in a safe environment.
Seminarians assisted with serving breakfast and coffee, as well as socializing with the guests. Some helped direct the free clothes closet or worked in the art room. Morning hospitality began and ended with prayer and a round-table reflection, including the Gospel reading of the day.
“It’s amazing how many homeless people are very similar to the people one would meet in his or her day to day life,” said Isaac Allwin of the Diocese of Tucson.
“I really enjoyed being with the poor and homeless,” Conor Baer, Archdiocese of Seattle, agreed. “I sat with a man named Brad, who is a musician. He had a really cool story and I think we both felt we had gained a friend.”
Mass was celebrated at the parish by Fr. John Patrick Riley, C.S.C. Afterwards, the seminarians were given the opportunity to visit two other partner organizations working in the downtown metro area. Bud Clark Commons, the “front door” of Portland’s Transition Project, acts as a day center, providing showers, clothing, laundry, mail and message services, a computer lab, hair salon, and housing assistance.
Macdonald Center aims to break social isolation by reaching out to the “invisible poor,” those who may live in single-occupancy units rather than on the streets. They provide clean, safe, and affordable alternative housing. In addition to home visitation, they provide opportunities for community socialization, hosting birthday parties and memorial services, as well as offering spiritual care, support groups, and retreats. All three organizations, despite having different immediate goals, are working together to bring hope to the homeless in the heart of Portland.
The retreat was a uniformly positive experience, seminarians said.
“It was an opportunity to experience Jesus in those who are in great need,” reflected Br. William Petry, M.S.p.S. “It was a chance to actually see, touch, hear, smell and speak to Christ in the poor. It was the grace to break through the mere understanding of God’s presence in those in need, to the encounter of God in them.”