Food for the Poor

  • July 17th 2017
  • Published by Br. Zach Burns, T.O.R.

Reignites Missionary Spirit


                For many, the mentioning of missionary activity within the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus elicits nostalgic moments of reminiscing. Foreign missions in India, Brazil, and even South Africa—these often seem to be reminders of an era long past, and established provinces and vice-provinces like that of St. Joseph and Our Lady of Aparecida products of a job well done. For some friars within our province, however, the missionary call of our Holy Father Francis in its most traditional form—that of foreign missionary work—has yet to fade away.

                Between Fr. Peter Lyons, Fr. Joe Monahan, and Fr. Denny Gang, well over twenty years of combined service has been offered by our Province to Food for the Poor, a lay organization founded by Catholics for the purpose of feeding and caring for impoverished citizens of seventeen separate Caribbean and Central American countries, and in order to educate American laity on the importance of maintaining a sacred awareness of the Poor in both scripture and in daily living. While Fr. Denny has recently curbed his involvement with Food for the Poor due to his new assignment, Fr. Peter and Fr. Joe continue to make bi-weekly or monthly visits to parishes around the country on behalf of Food for the Poor, all for the purpose of educating the laity and inspiring them to develop a Christ-like love for the suffering.

                Recently, the pair of Fr. Peter and Fr. Joe had the privilege of partaking in one of Food for the Poor’s annual missions: a trip to Haiti for the purpose of allowing for direct contact with those who have already been helped by Food for the Poor, and those still in great need of many of life’s essentials (shelter, food, clean water, etc.). Lately, the area of Haiti has been rocked by natural disasters of all kinds. Earthquakes and hurricanes have leveled homes and destroyed food and water sources, while rampant government corruption ensures that poverty cannot be easily overcome.

                The mission of Fr. Peter and Fr. Joe on behalf of Food for the Poor has not been strictly material, however. The time the two friars spent traveling all over the small country of Haiti was a spiritual endeavor above all else. “Yes, we provided water pumps, animals, food, and buildings,” Fr. Joe said, “but the non-tangibles were more important. Because of Food for the Poor, people had their faith renewed. They were given a renewed hope.”

                For a people who, as evidenced by their constant struggle with poverty and destruction, believed themselves to be enemies of God, the presence of Food for the Poor missionaries made reconciliation between the Lord and His people possible. Fr. Peter remarked on the incredible way God made his great love visible through the work of the missionaries: “In my most recent mission trip to Haiti my eyes were opened further to recognize that things like chicken coops and fishing boats can be seen as sacramental—outward signs of grace—for starving people. On the first Sunday back [in the United States]—the feast of Corpus Christi—I couldn’t help but connect our simple gifts of bread and wine with what Christ can do with them.”

                Similarly, Fr. Joe saw an immediate concrete relationship between the missionary work of Food for the Poor and the mission of Jesus Christ. He spoke of the incredible welcome offered by the native Haitians upon the group’s arrival. “I felt like Jesus,” he said, “except I wasn’t riding on a donkey!” He also spoke of emotionally powerful encounters with the Holy Spirit through average villagers. According to Fr. Joe, one particular woman, ragged and dirty, stood in front of a group of missionaries declaring, “I stand before you and I’m beautiful.” There may be no greater evidence of God at work than seeing His joy alive in those who have so little.

                Back home in the United States, Fr. Peter and Fr. Joe continue to spread the Gospel through their work with Food for the Poor, visiting new parishes and doing their best to connect the Sunday Gospel reading with the plight of the Poor. Fr. Joe describes a recent Sunday in which a reading from the Gospel of Matthew prompted him to draw a connection between the two sparrows sold for a cent and the people of Haiti. Just as God never forgets this simple and plain bird, so too does he always keep in mind His simple ones, his tattered ones, his Poor. Fr. Peter explained that when he first began preaching on behalf of Food for the Poor, he thought it might be a challenge to connect this specific work with the Sunday scriptures, but he has “yet to meet a Sunday liturgy that didn’t lend itself to Christ’s mission to the Poor.”

                There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit is present in this special ministry undertaken by a small group of TOR friars. Fr. Joe was excited to speak of an incident which occurred shortly after he returned to work after coming home from Haiti. After encountering an emotionally distressed physician in the hospital’s chapel space, Fr. Joe was able to share how he, too, was experiencing a great deal of emotion due to all he had experienced over the previous week. No sooner had Fr. Joe finished telling the physician of Juan Love, a child he had met who was relegated to living naked and in the mud, than she had her checkbook out ready to make a donation to Food for the Poor for $3,600 dollars—enough to purchase an earthquake-proof home for Juan Love and his family. Representatives of Food for the Poor assured the physician that not only could she donate the house specifically to Juan Love, but that she also could “follow” him and continue to provide aid for him throughout his life.

                For Fr. Peter and Fr. Joe, participating in the mission of Food for the Poor is central to our T.O.R. spirituality. As Fr. Joe notes, Food for the Poor was started by lay people. In this sense, we are living out our initial call as penitents of the Third Order: to join and minister to the laity as they seek to serve God. And the ministry is undoubtedly a mutual endeavor. Fr. Peter explains that four of the homes built by Food for the Poor in Haiti were donated in memory of our deceased friars: Venard Moffitt, Dennis Sullivan, Pat Boland, and Michael Scanlan. The first three were provided by our Portiuncula Fund, and Fr. Michael’s house was donated by Food for the Poor in appreciation for the contributions of the TOR province.

                What started for Fr. Joe as an attempt to challenge himself has given way to something life-changing. “When I preach on parish missions, I do it with the people of Haiti in mind,” Fr. Joe says. “If we don’t have a mission to the materially Poor, then we’re just singing ‘The Lord hears the cry of the Poor…’ but not really doing anything about it.”

                As a province, we are thankful for the service Food for the Poor offers to the Church, and we are inspired by the initiative of our own friars to take part in this mission. Serving the materially poor is essential to our life as T.O.R. friars, and we pray for the grace and courage to serve whenever and wherever we are called.