The Poor Bless Us
The homeless came to live for several months at St. Mary Church because God wished to bless our new parish center named after Archbishop Oscar Romero. He is a martyred saint who had compassion for the poor of El Salvador, whom he called “a crucified people.”
One should be careful how to name a place. I believe that we had 40-50 homeless people living in the Romero Center because Archbishop Oscar Romero sent them to his center.
When the bishop of Peoria came to St. Mary for Confirmation shortly after the parish center was completed in 2004, I asked him to bless it. So he spent about two minutes going around the rooms sprinkling holy water here and there. And so that was it!
In retrospect, however, I believe that the Romero Center was truly blest when the homeless lived under its roof. I had invited the Safe Haven homeless community to come to St. Mary in mid-August, 2009 thinking that they would be here for maybe a month. And that other churches in town would take turns receiving them. They were invited not just to give them the blessing of safety and shelter, but so that they could, in turn, give the parish the blessing that only the poor can give. It is the Anawim (God’s beloved poor), not the cleric, who can give the blessing of the Christ who himself “had no where to lay his head.” And who became a scandalous Messiah, nailed naked to a cross – helpless, broken and poor to offer solidarity with all “the crucified people” of history. In this way Jesus became the Anawim God, the God of total compassion.
The Safe Haven community stayed at St. Mary for one hundred and forty-four days because no other church in town would give them shelter. Once they were under my roof, I could not in conscience push them out into the night. This is not a lesson I picked up in my theology classes. Rather it was a lesson given to me by my parents, both born and raised in poverty, who showed a notable sense of compassion for the poor. Their solidarity with the poor is the basis of my faith in our Anawim God.
—Father Tom Royer