- Seeing as God
- Second Site
- Saying Sorry
- Training in Awakening
- Those we fear
- Accompanying the Queer
- Reflection by a Staff Member
- Chaplain Interviews
- Defining Gubbio
- Help Article
- Remarks from Martin Sheen Fundraiser
Seeing as God Sees
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, May 2016
The Gubbio Project had the opportunity to reflect on the Scriptures at St. Boniface one Sunday in March. Two of the readings for the day dealt with seeing. In the first, the prophet Samuel explains that “God sees not as people see,” looking not at the exterior of a person, but at their heart. In the gospel story, Jesus heals a blind man.
As part of my reflection I shared that I often feel ‘blind’ when I see only the exterior of people and judge them to be ‘homeless’ or ‘addicts’ immediately. I lament when it is my second or third thought, and not my first, that the person I am seeing on the street is my brother or my sister and wonder how long it will take me to be the kind of person that I seek to be - one that sees or notices first the heart, or the suffering, or the beauty, of a person, and not their material, living, or mental health condition.
In researching for the reflection, I came across a fascinating description of what it is actually like for people who were born blind to have an operation and be able to see. According to one surgeon learning to see for the first time is a surprisingly painful process that can take years. From Emilie Griffin’s book, Souls in Full Flight:
The patient on opening his [sic] eyes gets little or no enjoyment; indeed, he finds the experience painful. He reports only a spinning mass of light and colors. He proves to be quite unable to pick up objects by sight, to recognize what they are, or to name them. He has no conception of space with objects in it, although he knows all about objects and their names by touch.... His brain has not been trained in the rules of seeing. We are not conscious that there are any such rules; we think we see, as we say naturally. But we have in fact learned a whole set of rules during childhood. (p. 143-144)
More research for the reflection revealed a series of studies done by social neuroscientists Lasana Harris and Susan Fiske in 2006 and 2007. They first studied what happened in the brain when people viewed photos of those they considered outcasts (i.e. lowest on a scale in their minds in terms of warmth and competence, those to whom they could not relate). The part of the brain that recognizes someone as a fellow human being did not light up; their brain registered them the same way it would if they were looking at an object! In equally important follow-up studies they discovered that when people thought about preferences, wants, or idiosyncrasies that the people in the photographs whom they considered outcasts might have, the area of the brain being studied did in fact light up.
The take away from this research is that it seems that science is giving me, and us, a way to understand what the Scriptures instruct. It is possible, and necessary - albeit a long process - to train our brains to see anew and heal ourselves from our blindness. When it comes to those to whom we consider outcast - whoever they may be - when we think about their needs or preferences, we literally humanize them in our brains. And this is good news for those of us interested in “seeing as God sees.”
Gubbio Positioned to Start Second Site
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, November 2015
For those of you who have been supporters of the Gubbio Project for the last several years, you know that a theme of ours during that time has been encouraging other places of worship to open their doors to those living on the streets the way that St. Boniface Catholic Church has done for the last 11 years. We have touted the benefits of opening one’s sanctuary to the homeless guests, the volunteers, and the parish. We have quoted Scripture and the pope; given rational, theological, and practical arguments about sacred space; preached in a number of churches; and talked on the phone with scores of religious leaders.
Well, it looks like the work, and the Spirit, have made it happen. Starting in December, gratefully before the worst of the El Nino effects begin, we hope to partner with St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in the Mission for 4 hours each weekday. It will be a pilot project for the next 7 months. We hope to provide the same essential services that we have been providing at St. Boniface – weekly breakfasts, massage, haircuts, HIV testing, and foot care – at this second location.
As we have done for the past 11 years, we will continue to provide “sacred sleep” to the hundred plus people who seek an oasis from the streets of the Tenderloin at St. Boniface. We will continue to provide a ministry of presence, essential items such as toiletries, socks, and blankets, access to bathrooms, and referrals to where guests can get much needed services. At the request of the parish, however, we will no longer provide the breakfasts, haircuts, and other services that we used to provide.
Thank you for all the support that you have given over the years as we continue to walk with, and be in community with, our brothers and sisters who live on the streets, worship in the pews, and live in the area.
WHO'S GOING TO SAY THEY'RE SORRY?
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, October 2015
When we as a society finally understand that the people who have been living on the streets are our brothers and sisters; that they are vulnerable, treated inhumanely day and night, are ignored, and are criminalized unfairly ...
When we realize that they are worthy of more than mini-homes, overcrowded shelters, or no shelter at all; that they deserve more than our scorn, our impatience, our fear ....
When we see that those who struggle with mental illness or chemical dependency are parents, children, siblings; are afraid just like we are, have dreams just like we do, need love and care, and to be seen ....
When we get that race and gender are constructs and diversity is to be celebrated, enjoyed; that not everyone has the same experience in their body; that we as a society have criminalized and moralized people for who they are ....
When we finally wake up and invite people from the streets into houses ...
Who will apologize to them for the years of neglect and indifference? Who, on behalf of society, is going to say, "we're sorry for not recognizing your humanity and prioritizing you?"
TRAINING IN AWAKENING
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2015
I wanted to take a moment to respond to the incident that happened a couple of weeks ago when a cop was tasked with waking a homeless person up who was sleeping on a bus that had come to the end of its line near Ocean Beach.
The task of waking up homeless people is one that is not relished by the Gubbio Project staff and volunteers, but one in which we have become experts. We wake our unhoused neighbors up from the sidewalk in the morning at 5:45 am, from the front of the church when they fall asleep in those pews reserved for mass and prayer, from out in front of the church during the day, and finally from the pews at 2:45 pm when it is time for us to close. We must wake up 100 people a day that don't necessarily want to be awakened.
It is not an easy task, and probably our least favorite. It takes training, patience, compassion, more patience, time (that we sometimes don't have), and a bit of humor. And so it is with this expertise, and compassion for the 'awaking officer,' that I offer my insights on the incident.
In response to the characterizations from the Public Defender's Office that Police Officer Chu had "lost his temper" and that his actions were a "reckless and unnecessary escalation of force," Police Chief Suhr defended Officer Chu saying that he was acting as he was trained to do. While Suhr is probably speaking truth, it only makes the matter worse. It begs the question of anyone who has seen the video , And
what training is that?
A better response would have been for Chu to admit what the Public Defender's Office said was true - he did escalate the situation. It is understandable. Most people have had to put up with someone who was drunk. And it would be hard not to sympathize if Chu came out saying "I was impatient, and in my effort to accomplish my task - to get Mr. Warren off the bus - probably hurried him along too much. I got triggered when he insulted me, challenged me and offhandedly threatened me."
This self-knowledge and analysis is what I would expect of my staff if we had an incident here at Gubbio. Is it too much to ask this of those who are entrusted with the safety of the whole city?
Mr. Warren played his part in this incident. But he did not deserve to be beaten, pursued, and pepper sprayed, and then to spend two weeks in jail. He owes an apology to be sure for the way he acted, but he certainly deserves an apology as well.
Along with training in CPR/First Aid and working with folks who have mental health issues or suffer from addiction, I offer the staff training in knowing their triggers and in de-escalating situations. We use these skills every day. Wouldn't it be great if, after Chu's (suggested) acknowledgement of getting triggered, Police Chief Suhr could defend his apology saying "he was simply doing as he was trained."
THOSE WE FEAR
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, February 2014
Fear of people who are living on the streets is a very real thing. When I have talked with other churches about the possibility of them allowing homeless people to sleep on the pews of their church, their first response is often fear. There is the fear of what the neighbors and/or parishioners would think and do; fear for the schoolchildren, and of the parents' reaction, if there is a school; and fear of the drug use by some of the homeless folks.
The biggest fear, however, seems to be of the people themselves. I get it. Everyone has seen someone disheveled on the corner yelling loudly at a nonexistent enemy. And at St. Boniface, there has been the occasional mass that has been interrupted by someone having an episode.
But for every one person living on the streets who is shouting, there are 99 more who are not. Or 999 who are not. The Gubbio Project is celebrating being open for 10 years this April (2580 days of providing sacred sleep!). And while we have had some instances of uncertainty and instability with some of our guests that has made us rightfully fearful in the moment, we strive daily to see that those are isolated incidents and to see each person for who they are. The fact is, we have never had a serious incident of violence in the 18,060 hours in which an average of 75 homeless, bone-tired, beautiful, cranky people have shared space together.
Statistics like this should challenge the notions we and society have about our homeless brothers and sisters. People without homes are far more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. They are harassed, beaten up, assaulted, ignored, and stolen from. One reason I want the churches to take our neighbors living on the street in, is because they need safe places to be. Another is because I want the churches to take the lead in showing that what we should fear most is the damage that clinging to our stereotypes and fear of homeless people does to us, and to those we fear.
ACCOMPANYING THE QUEER*
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director, July 2013
Given the above statistic and Gubbio's mission of welcoming all our brothers and sisters who live on the streets, it is no surprise that The Gubbio Project, and hence St. Boniface Church from 6 am to 1 pm each weekday, is chock full of people who do not fit within the gender or sexual norms laid out by society, nor the Catholic Church, for that matter. It is a daily occurrence that we ask someone using the women's bathroom if they identify as a woman, and/or explain to questioning or upset guests that if people identify as female, regardless of their exterior trappings, we allow them to use the women's bathroom.
Daily, several couples of various gender combinations lay down next to each other in the back of church, often snuggling before they fall asleep. Each and every day, someone shares with us the pain of being rejected because of how they look or who they love (see article below), and often (though not often enough), they share the joy of finally feeling safe with someone, or getting put on a list for the surgery they need to make them look more like they feel.
To accompany the Gubbio guests, those who are struggling with addiction issues or mental health issues, or those 30% who identify as LGBTQ, we need to be able to cry with them and to rejoice with them. We cannot weep or celebrate with our brothers and sisters if we are thinking (or God forbid, saying) "God loves you, but you need to change." It is a most unhelpful message that people have been hearing their whole lives. A better second half of the sentence would be "and so do I."
It is no secret that LGBTQ folk do not often feel welcome in Church. I am glad to say that from 6 am to 1 pm every Monday through Friday, they are welcomed by this Project into this church with open arms.
*Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities that are not heterosexual, heteronormative, or gender-binary. No offense is meant by this term that has been largely reappropriated by the GLBTQ community from its form as an anti-gay epitaph.
REFLECTION BY A STAFF MEMBER
by Emma Fenton-Miller, May 2013
Over the long weekend I saw a news article about a homeless man who died on the sidewalk around noon on May 10th at the corner of Market and 3rd. The article made clear that while crowds passed by this man who obviously needed medical attention, no one stopped to help him or called 911. Instead, at least one person used their phone to take a video of him as he bled to death. Help was finally called, too late, by a sanitation worker whose job it was to keep that piece of sidewalk clean.
I think most who hear this story are disturbed by our collective "back-turning" on those living in extreme poverty. It probably stuck in the minds of a few, brought them down a little and reminded them that the world is kind of messed up, adding to their cynicism but perhaps not to our collective action.
My first reaction was to wonder if the man who died was someone I knew, since when I left work on Friday a friend told me of how he was very sick and had been vomiting blood, which brought the situation close to home. This is the case for many, such as those who have family members living on the street, those who work with or are friends with someone who is homeless. For many who know someone who is homeless the cardboard thin abstract that is "homeless person" no longer distances in the same sort of way.
Instead of a depressing parable of the disconnection in our society or just a sensationally sad story, it is actually what happened to a real person. While I think it is important and needed to keep looking at the big picture in such an instance, it occurred to me that I should first simply and deeply feel for this person because in a profound way that's what was lacking.
"THE HARD STUFF IS STILL SACRED": INTERVIEWS WITH GUBBIO CHAPLAINS
Andrea: Franciscan Sister
On her spiritual background:
"I grew up in Northeastern South Dakota in a town of 150 people. I went to Catholic grade school. Catholicism was in the fabric of everything we did including social activities. Everyone I knew was Catholic. After dinner we would all kneel and pray the rosary together. When I was a senior in high school I decided to become a Sister. I was drawn to the Franciscan spirit of joy and to the emphasis on relationships. I've been a Franciscan sister now for 48 years.
On what stands out as a Chaplain at Gubbio:
The profound deep experiences of God that guests in The Gubbio Project share with me stand out. People are filled with the experience of God. God abides with them.
Homelessness is a sad commentary on the lack of care we have for our brothers and sisters. It is a weakness that we [society] marginalize and have prejudices toward the poor and homeless. That's why Gubbio and St Anthony is so important. We want to be the hands, arms, heart of God. We want to receive the beauty these people have to offer.
On how she stays hopeful:
It is important to live in the present moment. Some moments have difficulty. In others we need to care for ourselves with quiet, prayer, entertainment. We have to fill our tank, nourish our souls, reflect, and change attitudes. These are hermitage moments. Being Franciscan is about being in right relationship with the self, each other, and with God, our abundantly generous God.
Bella: Episcopalian Seminarian
On her spiritual background:
Growing up, my family infrequently attended a Polish Roman Catholic Church. The homily was in Polish and the mass in Latin. I didn't understand a word, but it evoked that mystery thing that I still carry. I didn't go to church for many years. At 30 I was dealing with gender stuff I had suppressed for a long time. I wanted to fix the feeling of not being male. I would pray to God about it. I had a realization that it wasn't going away. God created me this way. Coming to terms with myself opened up my spiritual life. Even so I stayed away from Christianity and was drawn toward earth-based and First Nation's spirituality. Later I had conversion or reaffirmation experience. It was life changing. I became aware it was time to go to school so I began seminary in 2009.
On why she has been drawn to chaplaincy:
I like to be with the people, where the people are. The real work happens outside the church. Chaplaincy holds to the tenants of accompaniment, not proselytization. It's their agenda, not yours. Even though it may be hard for me to be a pastor, as a chaplain I can still be in that sacred space. Sometimes guests ask me "where's your church; where do you preach?" I realized there's not many places that people living on the street feel comfortable going to church.
There is homelessness because of greed.. Because of not sharing. There aren't enough resources for people with mental health problems. Sometimes I feel there is a business being made on the unhoused. People need to take the power back. It will be the same until that movement of poor and marginalized people.
Empowerment and holistic care are so important, not just physical but also emotional and spiritual. That's why Gubbio is so important. We are the only place I know of providing nonjudgmental spiritual care at a drop-in center.
Spiritual practices are important, whatever that is to you: running, praying. I try to take a Sabbath. Some days are better than others. I try to remember that the good things are necessarily in your control and neither are the bad things. The hard stuff is still sacred. God is still in that. Being with the people is being with God.
Tyree: Baptist Minister & Seminarian
On his spiritual background:
I was born and raised in the Pentecostal tradition, Church of God and Christ. There were many pastors and singers in my family going back. I had a personal relationship with God from a young age. At 17 I had my call to ministry and became a licensed minister. First, I was a youth pastor, then pastoral assistant and I was a Pastor for a year in Texas.
As a minister, I was always drawn to outreach ministry; in nursing homes, with the sick and in prisons. I first met a chaplain when I was in the military in Iraq. They [chaplains] helped express faith and have church. These ministries are outside of the traditional church. You meet people where they are. Many people are reluctant to go to the prisons and hospitals. I love being able to be there for people of faith.
On being a chaplain at Gubbio:
On a discouraging note, many people here have heartbreak and feel hopeless. Many people have a terminal illness or just lost a loved one. You also find people have deep faith and many have a plan. There are people here in college who have found resources to help themselves. Many are working to overcome the circumstances. It's amazing.
There is a lack of compassion and respect for humanity. As a minister/chaplain, you see many people who "help" but don't treat homeless people well. They treat them like objects not as people. Some people think if you give money that everything should be ok. People don't take the time to find out what is needed and this can be demeaning. They are not committed to helping long term. There is no accountability as far as the character of those helping.
In my profession, you preach self-care. I need to take care of myself spiritually and emotionally, to take care of others: sleep enough, pray. You have to have something to give. Hearing stories from people is hopeful; some people have hope. You listen to people and remember who the problems belong to and set boundaries. You have to have a level of trust in other people that they can make it without you. Allow them to do that. I learned that from my family that you have to trust people to live their own lives.
The Gubbio Project is a thousand strong. We are the 90+ people who come seeking rest and shelter each weekday on the hard pews in the beautiful, dry, safe, and warm-ish sanctuary of St. Boniface Church. We are the 75 more who daily come to use the clean and drug-free bathrooms, to get a razor, toothbrush, or a blanket, or to find out where they can store their stuff or get a shower. We are the 5 staff members who hold the sacred space in the church, keep it clean, outreach to the community, and share our vision of a church that is radically inclusive and walks with those who are down-trodden.
We are the 50+ volunteers who come every month to share a meal they have prepared, to assemble toiletry kits, to buy the cleaning supplies, to provide a listening ear to those in the community who are in need. We are the 6 Board members who gather monthly to reflect on what it might mean for church to be sanctuary, to figure out how to embody the belief that there is that of the divine in each person, and to strategize how to pay the bills and continue the work. We are all those who hold this Project in their hearts and pray for us. We are the thousand men, women, and children who have donated supplies and finances to the Project this past year. We are the parishioners from the 5 Catholic churches (and the students from the parish schools) that collected toiletries during Lent. We are the parishioners from the 6 churches that opened their doors to have Gubbio staff share at their masses, and their wallets to share what the Spirit lead them to give. We are the people in the church in Los Angeles who collected money for 35 sleeping bags because a teen there gave his away to someone in need. We are the people who read the Chronicle article, were moved by the story, and wanted to be part of providing "sacred sleep" for our unhoused neighbors.
We are the people in our partnering organizations who go out of their way to make the cafeteria available for breakfasts, who respond to our security needs free of cost, who share their worship space with us.
It is not the case of "we could not have done it without you" but more "we are doing this work - all of us." Each person who donates a pair of socks, brings OJ to the Friday morning breakfast, sleeps on the pew, or donates $2 makes the Project what it is. You, who are reading this newsletter, have, and are now participating in the work of keeping the doors of the church open, of walking with our brothers and sisters without homes, of declaring that yes, to be a sanctuary for those on the margins is a good and right use of church space.
In her book Traveling Mercies, author Annie Lammott wittily asserts that in all the world there are really only two prayers:
"Help me. Help me. Help me."
"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
I think she's right, and I appreciate how these simple words acknowledge the essential impulses that are at the core of everything we do. We are tender towers of flesh moving through a bright, harsh landscape - nearly every day each of us needs some kind of help to do something we want, or get something we need, however small. And when the need is big, and the help comes, the relief and gratitude that floods out of us is as primal and potent as the need was.
Now while I think of myself as a generally compassionate person, I'm not one of those people who go out of their way to help others too often. I mean to be. And sometimes I am - sometimes I actually do get it together to bake a lasagne for my new-parent neighbors, or send a card to an ailing friend even though they're not expecting it. But mostly I do easy things, like take my old clothes to the Goodwill and send small checks to Amnesty International. Mostly I stay safe, and clean, and just think about helping in the bigger, messier ways.
And one of the things that makes giving help so messy is that it exposes you to other people's pain and sadness. If you actually look and listen to another person and truly tune in to their deepest needs, it can be uncomfortable, if not overwhelming. Most of us are only willing to make that dark journey into a few people in our lives - a partner, a sibling, a best friend - and maybe not even then.
Last week, I had an encounter that reminded me how fulfilling the impulse to "help" is not simple or easy. There is a homeless woman in Chiswick, the town I live in. Notably, she is the only homeless person I have ever seen here (except for a male drifter with an aging back-pack who hung around on a corner with his guitar for a week), which seems remarkable for a city neighborhood. She is an almost quintessential figure of a bag lady - 60ish with wild grey hair, completely hunched over, and dressed entirely in black cloth. She wears "shoes" on her swollen feet made of plastic bags, newspaper and rubber bands, and she drags behind her a wheelie-cart loaded down with plastic bags, boxes, bits of paper and string. She is often seen walking up and down certain streets by the tube, but even more commonly, she resides in a secluded bramble-patch at the edge of a parking lot behind my building. In that spot she starts cook-fires, feeds the pigeons, and spends a lot of time screaming. I think she is probably schizophrenic. But I have never seen her bother anyone, or be violent in anyway, or do anything other than hang out alone in the bushes. Intuitively, I think she has chosen to remove herself from society - to go to a place where she can be as she is without really bothering anyone.
I walk through this parking lot nearly everyday on my way to the tube or the shops, and I see this woman at least 3 times a week. When my mom was visiting, we had many conversations about her. I think to my mom, who had just turned 60, this woman was a terrifying figure - a kind of doppelganger of what she could have or possibly still could become if her circumstances shifted for the worse. For me, she was part of the landscape - something I had come to accept as part of the neighborhood, like the brick houses and the tall trees. Here's how some of our conversations went:
Mom: "I can't believe that a town as wealthy as Chiswick can't get it together to help this woman."
Me: "Maybe she doesn't want help. Maybe she's content living as she is."
Mom: "It's obscene that no one does anything for her. She could be any one of us."
Good point. And one that we all know deep down, but easily ignore when we past dirt-encrusted folks with tattered hair and no teeth on the street. "There but for the grace of G-d go I," quickly gives way to "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That she isn't me."
So I mulled on what my mom had said, and simultaneously I cleaned out my closet. I had an old pair of super-soft slippers that I no longer liked and a working (albeit slightly annoying) umbrella that I was prepared to give to the Charity shops. And then I thought, "Maybe I should give them to the Pigeon Lady. Maybe these slippers would feel good on her feet, and she probably needs an umbrella." And I put these things in a bag, and set them aside, and did nothing for many weeks.
I fantastized sometimes about walking up to this woman and handing her the bag. I tried to imagine the conversation we would have - maybe she would be happy about being approached and we would chat about the weather, the pigeons, the beautiful hyacinths blooming in her bramble patch. Maybe it would be a silent exchange, but I would catch her in the eye for a moment and we would see each other. Maybe she would yell at me and be alarmed by my trying to talk to her. There seemed to be a lot of plausible scenarios, and at the bottom of each was a cold little blob of fear - fear that she would do something to frighten Gabriel if I brought him along, fear that she might curse me or worse attack me, fear that I might not like looking in her eyes and really seeing what her life is like.
So, I did nothing. But I thought about it all the time, especially when I passed her on the street. It became a kind of secret I was keeping - my desire to help and my fear to do anything. Finally, I decided that I would leave the bag with a note for her to discover. I added a box of lovely chocolate cookies to the slippers and umbrella, double-wrapped them so the rain wouldn't get through, got out one of my nicest notecards, wrote her a little letter, and stapled it to the front of bag. Here's what it said:
To the Woman Who Feeds The Pigeons:
I thought these things might be useful to you.
I hope you are well.
I dropped the package off in the bramble patch on a sunny Tuesday morning, pleased that I was finally doing something. Later that morning I passed through the parking lot and saw the woman busy organizing her belongings in the bramble patch, so I knew she had seen my package. At the end of the day, I passed through again, and I noticed what looked like the bag, with the note still attached, sitting on the asphalt beside the bramble patch. There was no sign of the woman. I went over and inspected the bag. Both the bag and the card were unopened. On one side of the envelope, she had scribbled this note back to me:
You are not kind. And you waste your time.
I never take anything from anyone.
Tuesday, June 19th
I was startled. I had not considered this as a possible outcome. I felt embarrassed and caught. I put the bag down and started to cross the parking lot, but then it occurred to me that leaving the bag there might cause her distress, so I picked up the lot and carried it with me to the tube station where I tossed it in the bin. So much for good intentions.
Perhaps my initial instinct about this woman was right - she might be living outside on her own by choice - perhaps as a form of protection against past troubles. She was checked in enough to know the date. Or maybe she was offended by being offered something she hadn't asked for - perhaps she feels completely self-sufficient and my clumsy attempt to "help" made her feel angry because it challenged that sense of autonomy. Perhaps she is paranoid and distrustful of others and doesn't like being approached. There is no way to know for sure - no way except maybe trying to talk to her.
So for now, I'm pondering the experience, letting it sit in my heart, and waiting for inspiration to strike and when/how/if I should try to connect with this woman. If I do anything else, I think I will have to stretch much further out of my comfort zone than I am accustomed to. I will probably have to get a bit messy, a bit involved, and open myself up to the truth of this woman's situation, whatever it is. And I'm not sure if I'm up for that. I might be. On a good day. I'd like to be. We'll see.
Wait and see.
Look before you leap.
What could be simpler.
An entry from Christine Young's Blog: Minkgirl Muses
OPENING REMARKS AT MARTIN SHEEN FUNDRAISER
by Laura Slattery, Executive Director
My name is Laura Slattery and I am the current Director of this Project, the Gubbio Project, that provides sacred sleep during the day to our brothers and sisters without homes in this neighborhood. The Gubbio Project is a sanctuary of sorts from the violence and disorientation caused by life on the streets that was started by Fr. Louie Vitale 8 years ago when he was pastor at St. Boniface.
We have asked Martin Sheen to share with us this evening on the topics of Social Justice and Sanctuary drawing on his faith journey. We thought that a fitting subject given the Gubbio Project's mission of offering radical hospitality and challenging societal, and sometimes church, notions of who belongs and who is worthy or sacred, combined with Martin Sheen's long history of social activism fueled by his deep convictions and values rooted in Catholic thought and practice. We first had the idea of inviting Martin Sheen to share some reflections with us when his recent movie, The Way, came out. We saw connections with the pilgrimage in the movie of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela to the lives of many of our guests and our own lives, of course. Finding sanctuary and kindness and ultimately transformation along the way.
I feel honored, or maybe humbled, to introduce Fr. Louie, who will then introduce his good friend and fellow activist, our guest this evening, Martin Sheen.
I've known Louie for almost 15 years now. I know many of you, including Martin, have known him much longer. What draws me to Fr. Louie (and to this Project he started) is his vision, the way he sees the world and the way he sees people. He looks at folks and sees sacredness and woundedness, doesn't matter their station in life, their wealth or lack of it. He can, and does, talk to the Nancy Pelosi's of the world the same way he talks with the homeless - attentive, caring, and not afraid to call out the BS when he hears it.
He looks at the world, and sees how we could be doing it differently - without nuclear weapons, without wars and torture, putting people before profit, seeing that it is up to us, to each one of us, to bring about the world that we want to see (he would use more religious words if you pressed him - the reality of the incarnation). He takes that insight seriously and stands up to the powers and principalities to make that a reality.
While I have known Louie for a long time, I just met Martin tonight. It is Louie's job to introduce and to interview him, but I wanted to end my remarks by reflecting on what I see as similarities between Mr. Sheen and Fr. Vitale.
Both are men that believe that one person can make a difference, and at the same time that we are nothing without community or without the Divine, the Holy. (Jump in here and correct me if I say something wrong about you). Both have been arrested (66 times for Martin, 200+ times for Louie, if Wikipedia can be trusted), arrested in the pursuit of justice for the earth, for those on the margins (be they homeless, glbtq, Palestinians, victims of torture), for an end to nuclear weapons. Both bring a refreshing humility to the work (one that is actually a requirement of nonviolence, right, because as Gandhi says - in the end if you're wrong you are the only one who has suffered because of your actions) and a passion to calling out injustice and calling forth a new way. They have chosen different professions, but they have the same call and are surely on the same path/camino. Folks, please welcome Friar Louie Vitale and Martin Sheen.