Street ministry in KCK leads to year in Sao Paulo slums

by Julie Holthaus

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It began in a small way. In 2009, Sean Brite began volunteering at Shalom House here, assisting in meal preparation and guiding residents through job applications.

Fast forward five years, and you’ll now find Brite living in the slums of South America, delivering food, water, and prayer to the homeless in places like Sao Paulo, through work with the Franciscans of the Poor of Jesus Christ.

It was Brite’s work at Shalom House that led him to the Sisters of that order, who live above Shalom House. The Brazilian-based mendicant group has a simple mission: “To seek Jesus completely, and to belong completely to Jesus.”

Brite began helping the Sisters in their weekly street ministry, doing  what he is doing now — bringing food, water and prayer to the homeless — but in this case to those in Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo.

“Street ministry is a lot about being a positive presence,” Brite said. “I had a man tell me, ‘You’re bringing me food, but food I can get. I am thankful you are here.’”

“It’s very affirming,” he continued. “And when you aspire to see with the eyes of God, you start to see justice and where love needs to be.”

Through his work with the Sisters, Brite was given the opportunity to meet the founder of the order.

“When I first met him, I wasn’t thinking Brazil, but we talked about discerning a life call or religious call,” Brite recalls.

“One day, we were talking and he said he saw me coming to Brazil, and I was very unsettled by that.”

Brite would eventually agree, despite his initial reservations, and begin to make arrangements for South America.

“You can get in a place of reflecting your own fear,” said Brite. “Fear is why we don’t do a lot of what we are called to do.”

The trip would be an eight-month stay with the Brothers of the order in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Brite left for Sao Paulo in late August 2013.

“There are drugs and alcohol, human trafficking, child prostitution and many villages outside of dumps,” said Brite. “Brazil is where most of the work is for the order.”

Sao Paulo is Brazil’s largest city, and the world’s seventh largest. According to Brazil’s Economic Research Institute Foundation, half of the population of Sao Paulo lives in informal shelters. The Brothers in Sao Paulo live and work among the poor and homeless, much as the Sisters do in Kansas City, Kan.

Brite says both Pope Francis and Mother Teresa have provided great inspiration for him.

“Pope Francis is going to challenge the world,” said Brite. “The world has been in an ego environment for so long, it’s a part of most people’s base humanity.”

“‘What do I get? How do I satisfy myself? How can I live for me?’ are the predominant questions of our American culture,”said Brite. “We’ve become very attuned to immediate gratification with all of our devices, but I think people really want what Pope Francis is talking about — to not just live for pleasure, material and power.

“Those are blessings that come to those who do a greater good.”

Brite says Mother Teresa has inspired him through her motto of small actions with great love.

“The way she would do that was by giving her presence,” said Brite. “When you were with her for a minute in a crowd, you had her focus for a minute. All are welcome to live the way she lives, and knowing a smile is important. Your positivity really affects so many.”

As for local inspiration, Brite credits the Sisters with being a positive fixture for others and loving unconditionally. Brite said their peacefulness through their relationship with God has been influential.

“The Sisters have a very beautiful prayer I like to paraphrase,” said Brite. “When they pray they say, ‘Lord, make us worthy to be your hands, to bring joy, grace and love to people’s lives. Give bread to those who are hungry, and hunger for justice for those who have bread.’”

Brite returns to the United States later this month. Upon returning, Brite will give talks about his mission and the work of the Franciscans of the Poor of Jesus Christ to area parishes.

Find out more about Brite’s work in South America by visiting his blog online.

About the author

Julie Holthaus

Leave a Comment