by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — There was a lot of chatter in the school bus as it rumbled through the city. At one point, a rider began to sing “This Little Light of Mine,” and another joined in.
It was a cheerful ride with an atmosphere of anticipation, much like an outing for a church youth group.
These riders, however, were homeless men and women.
The Brothers and Sisters of the Fraternity the Poor of Jesus Christ sent the bus to collect their guests for a Christmas party and meal on Dec. 10 at the former Blessed Sacrament Parish School, located at 22nd and Parallel in Kansas City, Kansas. About 120 attended the event.
Some private cars had been sent to other areas where those who are homeless gather — under bridges, in vacant lots, in encampments and other places.
Those invited had been found in an alley, huddled against an outside wall of the Hope Faith ministry, a day shelter at the corner of Admiral Blvd. and Virginia St. in Kansas City, Missouri.
When the bus was parked, Brother Israel of the Crucified Lord, PJC, and lay volunteer Arturo Gonzalez got out and approached the men and women, most who were nestled under layers of blankets and sleeping bags.
One man, wearing a gray blanket like a poncho, approached Gonzalez. They gave each other a warm bear hug.
“Hey, man, how are you doing?” Gonzalez asked. “Merry Christmas. Do you want to come to a Christmas party? We’ve got food. We’ll bring you back.”
Most decided to board the bus, but a few stayed behind. One was a pregnant woman who volunteered to watch their meager belongings.
Some on the bus were a little apprehensive. They weren’t quite sure where they were going.
One thought they were being taken to the police, but Jeneane, who had been to an earlier Thanksgiving dinner offered by the Poor of Jesus Christ, reassured them. (Last names of the participants have been withheld in this article to protect their privacy.)
“The night before [Thanksgiving], I was having trouble, so I was cussin’ God,” Jeneane said later. “I said things weren’t working the way I needed them to. And the next day, this guy comes by the camp and said, ‘We’re having a Thanksgiving party, would you like to come?’ I didn’t think I was going to get Thanksgiving. And I was OK with that. That’s what happens.
“So, when I got here, I started crying because this was everything I needed to see, and everything I needed to hear and everyone I needed to be around.”
As the bus neared Blessed Sacrament Church and the former school, one of the riders — Antonio — grew excited.
“I used to go to school there!” he exclaimed.
He’d grown up near 58th and Georgia. The familiarity of the parish gave him a homecoming feeling.
“It’s a blessing!” he said, smiling.
Having family for the holidays
When the guests arrived, they were greeted by the Sisters, Brothers and about 70 lay volunteers wearing Santa hats.
In the former school dining room, they found gifts waiting for them: coats, shoes, blankets and bags containing snacks and smaller items like hats, socks, gloves, backpacks and gift cards.
There were stations where the men could get a shave and haircut, and the women could get makeup and hair styling.
Dawn was in the makeshift salon, surrounded by young women giving her the full beauty treatment — hair and makeup.
“I am having me-time today and I am being blessed by the ladies here and everything around me,” said Dawn. “This has been the best Christmas for a while.”
Dawn was thrilled that her hair, receiving a trim and styling, “would be pretty.”
Every week of the year, the Poor of Jesus Christ go to where those living on the streets congregate in the Greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The Brothers and Sisters bring them sack lunches and other items on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Twice a year, the religious community hosts two holiday dinners — Thanksgiving and Christmas — for “their family,” said Sister Mariana Disciple of the Divine Master, PJC.
“On special occasions, we always gather with family,” Sister Mariana continued. “Since we see them that much, we serve them, we know their history, they become our family. This is the way we want to spend time with our family, and they are our family.”
This year, the side dishes were donated by the New Theatre & Restaurant in Overland Park. The turkeys, chickens and hams were donated and cooked in their homes by the lay volunteers, many who regularly assist the Poor of Jesus Christ. There were also cupcakes and cake for dessert.
The gymnasium floor was filled with round tables with red tablecloths, set with Christmas-themed plates and little Christmas tree centerpieces. The stage had Christmas trees, lights, a star of Bethlehem and risers for the choir that sang Christmas songs while the guests ate.
At the back was a bench with lights where the guests could get their photograph taken.
The Magi, more than three and lacking their camels, distributed small gifts.
Santa Claus was a no-show, but a tall, jolly guy did show up: Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann. He offered a blessing and walked around the tables visiting the guests.
“The Brothers and Sisters the Fraternity of the Poor of Jesus Christ do the important work of the church to find the homeless, care for them and to bring them to an event like this today,” said the archbishop. “This is truly what Christmas is meant to be about, to try to imitate the love of God revealed in the babe of Bethlehem.”
The lives of these men and women are often associated with sadness, tragedy and struggle. There was, however, a spirit of celebration at this event.
“There is a lot of adversity for those who are homeless, but there is a beauty and a joy within these people,” said Archbishop Naumann. “They really care for each other, and they are appreciative for the Sisters, Brothers and all the volunteers who assist them.”
The story of Antonio’s homecoming to Blessed Sacrament moved him.
“Hopefully, everyone feels like our churches are home for them whether they are Catholic or not,” said the archbishop. “They’re always welcome. The Lord is present for all of us there.”
Ministry delivers showers of blessings
One challenge for people living on the streets is hygiene, especially in the winter. They can go weeks without a shower simply because they have no access to facilities.
That is why several of the guests at the Christmas dinner and party at the former Blessed Sacrament School in Kansas City, Kansas, were thrilled to see Operation Shower Blessing, a traveling shower and more operated by Team Jesus ministry based in Independence, Missouri.
Team Jesus rolled in with three trailers.
The first one was large and boxy, containing a changing area and shower stall with the associated equipment for hot showers, as well as a barber station. The second trailer was the Jesus Store equipped with clean clothing and more. The third was a support trailer.
The portable shower was a wonder to behold. It’s totally self-contained, water supply and all. It has fresh towels, shower gel, lotion and a flat screen TV to entertain the “Beloved” — the term Team Jesus uses to refer to the men and women they minister to — while they are in the barber chair.
Team Jesus was there at the invitation of the Poor of Jesus Christ, with whom Team Jesus has had a relationship for three years.
“Our mission is the Great Commission (Mt 25:34-36),” said Senior Pastor Brian Carline of H.O.P.E. (House of Praise Evangelistic Ministries) and Team Jesus. “We got blessed with a vision of Operation Shower Blessing by the Holy Spirit. The vision was to have a mobile shower we could take to a local event, a national event, emergency or disaster, or for the Beloved community.”
The trailer they have can provide showers for 100 people on one tank of water. They want the Beloved to feel loved and cared for.
“It’s designed to make them feel like they walked into a five-star hotel,” said Pastor Carline.
One of the Beloved eager to use the Shower of Blessing was Mark, who recently finished an 18-year prison term.
“I love it,” said Mark. “It really helps out the people who are homeless to take a shower, because most of the places are always closed or have other things they need to do, so you can’t always take a shower when you need to.
“This is a blessing for us. I love it. I thank God for it. I thank God these people came along when they did because I was feeling really down. They really helped me out.”