For a number years but especially in the last few weeks now we at St. Ignatius Parish have been trying to figure out how to respond to street people who come to church. They are, like us, children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus.
So we welcome them to pray with us, give them the warmth of smiles and conversations, and after Mass donuts and brunch when the Knights of Columbus kindly serve it.
The problem arises because they are wounded people and many of them are suffering from addictions to drugs, alcohol, or any substance to alleviate their suffering.
A valuable book of insights into the lives of street people is Wisdom From the Homeless by Neil Craton, M.D. a volunteer doctor at Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, a ministry for the homeless which has a medical clinic. The book documents 21 lessons he has learned from his patients at Siloam.
Consequently, to feed their addiction they are in front of the church before and after Masses sometimes harassing parishioners for money.
Some parishioners bring food or take them to fast food outlets across the street but that is not what is wanted. Some people are coerced into giving money. Some offer money because that is what they believe is required of them as disciples of Jesus.
Little do either realize the consequences of their gift. The money facilitates a trip across the street to the drug store and access to mouthwash or any thing that contains alcohol and then a return to the church and its washrooms to consume it.
The result is intoxicated street people lying on the church pews, prowling the aisles, and disturbing the worship and worshippers.
Some become belligerent when invited to leave. Occasionally recourse to police assistance has been needed.
Currently we are exploring both means to educate our parishioners about addictions and ‘enabling’ actions and means to convey the message to street people that they are welcome to worship and be part of the parish community but only when they are sober.
I wonder what would Jesus do.