Monday, 28 October 2013

Cruisin' The Streets... For Jesus

You know those high-pitched screeches you sometimes hear late at night as drunk young people (I'm trying to be inclusive here, but I'm pretty sure they're usually male people) cruise the streets looking for trouble?

Well last night I and a bunch of friends did the same thing.

Except exactly the opposite. Our Catholic singles group was doing a little outreach, trying to encounter Christ in the poor, just like Papa Francis asked us to do.
"Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded... but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel! ... Go out, go out! In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. There is another important point: encountering the poor. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty."
Pope Francis at the Vigil of Pentecost

We knew that there are many homeless people on the streets of our city, so we bought a bunch of packed biriyani meals, piled into a small car, and took to the streets at about 8 pm. The smell of the hot biriyani wafted through the car, and tantalized our empty stomachs. But we were on a mission. We were going to find 'the poor'.


The poor were nowhere to be found.

We drove to a small railway station, knowing that that is where homeless people are often stranded, but no, it was mostly deserted. We scanned people sitting on a bench on the streets with eagle eyes: "Homeless? Or breathing in some fresh polluted air after dinner?"

My clue was whether they had some sort of scrappy belonging with them or not. Mostly they didn't.

"Where'd all the poor people go-o-o?" I sang. (Yes, I AM talking about Jack Johnson.) It was slightly incongruous to be so disappointed that there were apparently no poor people in my city. But the thing is, we knew they existed... we just didn't know where. Maybe the city authorities had gotten better at hiding them. We got drove halfway across the city, and on an unfamiliar street we saw them. About six figures lying parallel wrapped up in some sheets... on the pavement. A young man and woman with a baby were the only ones awake eating a plate of rice. We stopped the car, and two of us approached them. We didn't want to scare them with all six.

We looked them in the eye. We smiled. We struck up a conversation. We asked them their names. (Yeah, my limited Hindi is good for something.)
"When I used to go to hear confessions in my previous diocese, people would come to me and I would always ask them: “Do you give alms?” — “Yes, Father!” “Very good.” And I would ask them two further questions: “Tell me, when you give alms, do you look the person in the eye?” “Oh I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it”. The second question: “And when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the person you are giving them to or do you toss the coin at him or her?”
Pope Francis
They were knife-sharpeners from a neighbouring state, who had come looking for work a few weeks before. They were very grateful for the food. We prayed with them. Okay, I didn't, but one of the guys from our group uneasily said he would try to pray in Hindi. I don't think I have ever heard him pray aloud in English. But as the best Hindi speaker from our group, he was nominated as the pray-er. And the most beautiful prayer flowed from his lips.

When we told them we were Christians, the knife-sharpeners told us they knew who Jesus was, and in their village they would go the church. "In our religion we have many gods, but we pray to Jesus."

Huh. Things I didn't expect to hear. We told them where the closest church was, in case they wanted to go.

We bid them farewell, and they waved as our car drove away. We continued our search, and were rewarded. We met one drunk, or possibly mentally ill man who grabbed the food, but chased us away. We met one old garbage picker, with a wrinkled face, and suffering eyes. The stench of the garbage was disturbing for the few minutes we spent talking to him. I imagined spending all my time rooting through stinking garbage.

We saw real smiles. We met real people. One man blessed us. And then we went home. It was 10.30 pm, and we hadn't had dinner.

You know what, it wasn't much. But it was a start. We took a little foray out of our comfortable well-fed world, where the only time we've felt hunger is when we've either fasted or had to do without... for a few hours. We don't REALLY know what it's like to be them. But we took the first step to finding out.

And plus,

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one," says Mother Teresa.

So we did.


  1. There's a ministry like that where I live! Thanks for reaching out to our brothers and sisters that are so many times forgotten.

  2. Pope Francis comment about looking in the eye is a great one.Keep up your good work.

  3. Beautiful way of sharing the love of Christ -- meeting a physical need (as He often did), but also reaffirming their dignity as people made in the image of God. I think that your kind words and eye contact likely did as much good as the food.