Continuing with our objective to see and understand the many ministries that Holy Name Province has to offer, the postulants found ourselves in Philadelphia Saturday in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Located in Kennsington, the St. Francis Inn is a soup kitchen that feeds between 200-450 people a meal, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The story goes that three friars got together with the ambition of forming an outreach church in the area. One of them decided to fully immerse himself into the culture of the community, spending two weeks as a homeless man on the street. It was through this experience that he realized that the last thing this community needed was another priest preaching at them from the comfort of the pulpit; what they really needed was to see the Gospel in action, and to have their own basic needs met. Thus, the Inn. (Right after being told this story, the storyteller added that it wasn’t entirely true, but that it conveys a good message about being open to the needs of the community. I’m not sure what about the story is true or false, but oh well).
Part of the revelation that came from living on the street for two weeks (which either did or didn’t happen in real life) was that the basic needs of food and shelter were not the only things lacking on the streets of Philadelphia: these men and women living in poverty were deprived of the dignity and respect due to all humans. One of the ways that this is done is by serving each guest restaurant style: after being shown to a table by the maitre d’, the guest is waited on by a server who will bring the food to them. In doing it this way (as opposed to cafeteria style), the guest is treated with importance, allowed to relax, and most importantly, served by another, a situation that is quite opposite to their normal experiences.
Another revolutionary aspect of the Inn is that all of their full time workers live in Kennsington. Unlike many other service places where people feed the poor then go home to the suburbs, the staff here is truly able to call their guests “neighbor.” It may not seem like a big deal, but this act of solidarity goes a long way in spreading the Gospel through action rather than word.
Which brings me to the foundation of community: the Eucharist. Each morning, the friars, sisters, lay women, and daily volunteers begin with mass. No matter how great the need is, how much work needs to done, how rushed the day is, they take time to stop, relax and be fed by God. From this spiritual and physical gift, they are then sent forth to feed the hungry, physically and spiritually. Without this initial source and focus the community could not sustain itself.
I hope that you’ll check out their website and consider them when you give to the Church in time, talent and treasure. They have no salaried workers, so they are in constant need of volunteers as well as money to provide for the modest needs of their on-site friars, sisters, and lay-women. They also run an urban center, thrift shop, and medical clinic, provide guests with a mailing address, legal support, occasional bill payments, and home delivery, as well as coordinating a year-long internship site for young adults. As long as there is a need in the area, the Franciscan community will be there to provide. As they say, “There’s always room at the Inn!”
More pictures here.