Editor's note: "The Field Hospital" blog series covers life in U.S. and Canadian Catholic parishes. The title comes from Pope Francis' words: "I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. …"
It's like one of those home makeover television shows. A poor family gets a renovated dwelling, complete with donated furniture. The difference is that the benefactors never meet the family and can only imagine what good they are doing.
"It's what we are called to do," said Mary Ann Thomas, one of the original organizers of the project, which is a largely women's ministry devoted to doing something good for the homeless in their city. "We are not saving ourselves, we are saving the family."
Keeping the beneficiaries anonymous to the benefactors allows the families being helped to maintain their dignity and independence. Homemakers of Mercy sees this as an integral part of mercy.
The project began after two Sisters of Mercy in Charlotte heard about the homelessness situation there. The wanted to do something to help the more than 6,000 people -- including 4,700 children -- who, on any given night, don't have a place to call their own home.
What they envisioned has grown into a network of 70 volunteers who collect furniture and housewares to distribute among apartments set aside for the homeless. They set everything up, and at the end when the apartments are ready for someone to move in, offer a prayer for the families who will live there. When the residents move in, they are greeted with a home cooked meal and a homecoming cake.
All the volunteers know about the beneficiaries is basic family information, such as the number of children and their ages so they can provide the right furnishings. Their work is intended as an anonymous act of mercy, now drawing inspiration on the preaching of Pope Francis on that theme.
The group works through agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Charlotte Housing Authority to identify people in need, focusing on single women and their children who are homeless. The Charlotte Housing Authority purchased a local complex, and as the 60 apartments are renovated, families move in. The families are assisted by local social service agencies, including the Salvation Army, to provide ongoing support, including job training.
For more information about the Homemakers of Mercy, go to http://stgabrielchurch.org/110.
[Peter Feuerherd is a professor of communications and journalism at St. John's University in New York and contributor to NCR's Field Hospital blog.]
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