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Sunday, October 12, 2014

I am outraged. And it’s time to do something.

 

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Warning to my readers:  This is not a typical post. So if you’re looking for pretty things you have to come back tomorrow. I promised my parents I would write this. And my son Michael who is as angry as I am about a program that we all care about.

Here it goes:

Last Tuesday night my Mom sent me a heartbreaking photo of my Dad and another volunteer sending people away hungry and unfed, from one of Sacramento’s most established and revered soup kitchens.

Why?

Because the new parish priest, Father Martin J. Ramat at St. Philomene’s Catholic Church has ordered that the kitchen be locked for the third straight week, a swift and callous decision that has left everyone involved, stunned.

That’s right. Hundreds of volunteers like my elderly parents, students from Jesuit High School and St. Francis and all the volunteers from public schools, local colleges and neighbors around the area who faithfully show up to serve a hot meal-- to an average of 500 hungry people each Tuesday are still showing up.

That’s how quick it’s all happened.

And even worse are those left hungry.

So tell me. How do you begin to get hold of people who ride their bikes because they don’t have cars?  People who show up wearing smelly clothes and don’t carry cell phones?  Families that use their precious gas money to drive all the way to the warm, brightly lit gym because they run short on money?

This is the outrage. There was no warning. There was absolutely no empathy shown by Father Martin for these people in need; he offered no short-term solution, no transition time for these folks before shockingly shutting the doors on a vital program that has fed over a million people in the last 30 years.

Poof. gone. just like that.

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This is where my anger lies. It’s for the harsh, thoughtless, insensitivity toward people who don’t have a voice, who are vulnerable and struggling.

And it’s a sense of outrage about a decision made by a spiritual leader no less. Honestly, the more I hear, the more I can’t believe it.

“Jo-Jo,” one homeless man told my Mom last Tuesday. “We’re hungry. You have anything you can give us?”

And the first week they did. My Mom and some of the core volunteers made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and handed out granola bars, still believing that this was some aberration, that surely this new priest would change his mind and unlock the doors.

That he’d walk over from his landscaped Rectory five minutes away on a Tuesday night and realize the dazzling display of spiritual kindness and love taking place on his Church premises.

But no. Father Martin stays away on Tuesday nights.

Sadly, he doesn’t see the volunteers stand in a circle before each Tuesday dinner, bow their heads and hold hands while Jim, the Bounty leader gives instructions to treat each person walking in the door, like a “guest in your home.”

Father doesn’t know about the table on the right side of the gym where a group of developmentally disabled adults sit and eat and laugh because this is their big night out. He doesn’t know that the caretaker at their group home drives them faithfully over as a weekly treat, more for the nourishment of their spirits then their stomachs.

No, Father Martin is new to the community. And so he’s never seen the joy inside the old gym at Thanksgiving when this “Bounty” program serves record numbers of hungry families. He’s never talked to my Dad, who is in charge of the long lines of people waiting outside in the chilly weather.  And so he doesn’t know that hot chocolate is offered to the kids in the cold, who are waiting excitedly for the only stuffing and turkey they’ll eat on this holiday.

And what’s even worse?

Father Martin has never seen Christmas. And the flood of excitement that happens when volunteers scurry around to create a special night, carving turkey, wrapping donated gifts, setting a station for the professional photographer, who shows up to take photos of giddy kids with a Spanish speaking Santa.

He has never witnessed the high school and college kids who were once former volunteers, suddenly show up with their guitars and music so they could get on stage and serenade the guests.

Nor has Father Martin heard the relief and laughter that fills the gym and the hum of a hundred whispered thank yous, floating into the air amid the tune of “Here comes Santa Claus”…. 

No. It’s obvious that this is one shepherd who doesn’t know his flock.

So now what?

This is what my parents want to know. This is what the high school kids want to know, what the hundreds of volunteers want to know.

What can we do when the priest won’t talk to you? When he instructs his secretary to let him know if his visitors are from the Bounty program so he can say the he’s “not available.”

Because this is exactly what happened when my parents and other volunteers went over to his office to talk with him. Even though he was there, he was “unavailable.”

He was also unavailable when the homeless guy on the bike went knocking on his door, but he was quite surprised by the mother. Because there’s nothing more powerful than a mother with three hungry kids.

Yes, according to my Mom a single mother showed up with her children and was distraught about the locked kitchen. But instead of going straight home she went to the Rectory to talk to Father. And when he stood at the door, she asked him,

“What would you do Father? If you had a child and you ran out of money to buy groceries? How would you feel?”

And after that incident there have been no more impromptu visits with this priest.

Because apparently Father is worried about “these people.” He has voiced concerns about his physical safety, made excuses about needles on the ground, and the wear and tear on the kitchen. And so he no longer wants to hear how his flock is ministering to the poor, especially when they look unsavory, when they’re dressed poorly and when they look like they have might have ‘issues.’

Father Martin doesn’t want to deal with these people who…..might actually look like a downtrodden Jesus. Instead, he and the new school Principal, want ‘Bounty’ out of their hair,  sloughed off on someone else’s property, yuck to all those ‘scary’ people.

Oh, and those volunteers that our Pope Francis would value so dearly? Father Martin has actually accused them of bragging when they have tried to defend the importance of this program.

And so my question is this.

Do we really need another out of touch, hypocritical, authoritarian priest in our midst?

Really? Another one?!

As a cradle Catholic, I’m tired of the stories. I’m sick of seeing the disturbing disconnect between what is spoken in weekly sermons and what I actually see in real life situations.

Yes, I was told recently that priests are often following the Bishop’s orders. Well maybe.

But if that’s the case, then Bishop Soto needs to make a nice, long visit to St. Philomene’s gymnasium on a Tuesday evening and see how his flock is following Pope Francis’s words when the Pope says:

“Look, you can't speak of poverty without having experience with the poor. You can't speak of poverty in the abstract: that doesn't exist.”

I don’t know a whole lot. But I do know that each Tuesday night in that little gym there is nothing abstract that happens. No virtuous words are spoken, not one biblical quote is offered, yet something transformative happens. It’s people rubbing elbows with people and being kind. Some people call it grace.

All I know is that St. Philomene’s should not lose this program.

If you’re still reading this and

  • If you’ve ever been hungry or experienced hardship, or
  • If you’ve ever served at Bounty’s program, or
  • if you’ve had a child who has gotten volunteer hours for school by participating on Tuesday evenings there, or
  • If you’ve ever felt outraged by some other insensitive action by a parish priest…

Please take a moment and call or send an email to Bishop Soto’s office asking him to keep the Bounty  program alive and well at St. Philomene’s.

Most Rev. Jaime Soto, Diocesan Bishop

Office:
(916) 733-0100

Fax:
(916) 733-0215

Email:
BishopSoto@scd.org

 

It doesn’t matter where you live.

Because we’re all neighbors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23 comments:

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

This is very sad, Leslie...so many are in need now and depend on a program like this. I sent an email...have any of you considered starting a petition on change.org? I've have seen many good results with petitions I have been involved with there.

Simply LKJ said...

My heart aches for you, your family and all who so graciously served those people on Tuesday evenings. The one thing that stands out in my mind the most is that "THAT" priest and his attitude is the reason so many of "THOSE" people leave the church to begin with. Such a hypocrite. To teach the word of God, you need to live the word of God. You that have accepted Christ Jesus as your savior are to be a Christlike example to all, believers and non-believers alike, rich or poor,healthy or sick, job or no job! Praying that those who have been those such examples can find a way to get the kitchen back open.

Andi's English Attic said...

Your voice is so strong in this post. Perhaps if you get the newspaper involved by posting this letter to them (be careful of liable etc.) I can understand your anger and that of the whole community. How can one man be allowed to do so much damage? It sickens me when people who are supposed to be doing God's work behave in this manner. He is one who would have turned away Mary and Joseph on that historic night.
I wish every strength to you and your fight. xx

Susan Nowell @ My Place to Yours said...

Leslie, this breaks my heart! Although I am a Protestant, I have been watching the Pope with great admiration and appreciation for the way he LIVES the gospel. I have the same respect for your parents and the other Bounty volunteers. As my husband says, "Preaching the good news of eternal life while ignoring present pain is an emaciated and impoverished gospel." ~David Z. Nowell in Dirty Faith: Bringing the Love of Christ to the Least of These www.dirtyfaith.com Thank you for setting aside the "pretty" posts and taking a stand. I'm praying for you and others as you prayerfully determine how to respond to your (our!) neighbors in need.

Dayle said...

You should take this to the media, every possible outlet you can think of should be contacted with this story. Just cut and paste your blog post into an email, if unable to reach anyone by phone.

If that doesn't work, I would organize a peaceful protest in front of the soup kitchen. I can't imagine the volunteers would oppose to holding a sign that says, "Father Martin will not allow us to feed the hungry here. Please help us feed the hungry."

Gypsy Heart said...

Unbelievable! This Priest is in charge of a Church?? Wow, he needs a strong wake-up call and removed from his position. I agree that posting this to any and all media is appropriate! I will definitely email and call even though I'm not Catholic. I adore the Pope and he really 'lives' his talk.

So extremely sad...and we are to love others? Obviously, this Priest has missed a lot of scriptures and life lessons.

xo
Pat

Susan Hemann said...

Outrageous!! I tweeted this, posted it to my facebook page and googled it. Good for you. My heart aches for those people. I bet that priest has a decent meal every day.

Fran said...

Hi, Gwen! For whatever it's worth, though I am not of the Catholic denomination, I am a Christian and I've sent an email to the priest regarding this travesty.

Fran
Collierville TN

Karen said...

I will email the Bishop when I finish, but what does the Father say is the reason for this. If the church has lost its compassion for the needy, what is the world coming to?! I agree with the reader that suggested contacting the newspaper in the area of Sacramento. They usually love to cover this kind of injustice.
This is so sad.
Karen

alittlecape said...

Go to Change.org and start a petition for the reinstatement of the kitchen and/or his removal. He is obviously a godless man. This is absolutely heartbreaking. His secretary should tell him to lie to the people himself and refuse to make airless excuses for him. He has obviously used his bully tecniques before in previous posts, someone needs to stop this man! Patty/NS

Elizabeth@pineconesandacorns said...

Leslie, my heart breaks reading this! What sort of nonsense it this? This priest is the minister of his flock and parish and if the members of the parish want this program than they can have it!!!

I am a catholic and I am ashamed of this! My own church has a food pantry, a place for "wayward" young men to stay as well as many other fellowship programs. That is the motto of our parish.

I will be sharing your post if I may on my blog, instagram account, and Facebook as well as calling tomorrow to complain to the Bishop.

Thank you for calling this to our attention. Hopefully the voices of many can get something done.

Sharon @ Elizabeth & Co. said...

This post pushed more than a few emotional buttons for me. Twelve years of Catholic school and I have not set foot in a Catholic church for quite some time. Sadly, this story does not surprise me in the least little bit!

Something Nice and Pretty said...

I hope everything works out for those poor people, I felt so bad for that mother and her children. This is so disturbing when a priest does this you just feel the evil coming from that church since he came there. I'll be praying for your parents and their kitchen!

Pam Kessler said...

That is absolutely ridiculous! I'm so sorry you, your parents and the rest of the congregation have to deal with that. I'm sending an email right now!

Kelly TalkoftheHouse said...

This is so very sad, and unbelievable that anyone in such a position could be so harsh. I sent an email to the Bishop (who is out of the office until Oct. 17 btw.) Love all the suggestions here. I wish you could make a video of the doors locked and all the volunteers and people there and put it out on Youtube. A word to the Pope would certainly bring about a change.

Cheryl said...

How awful and what a shameful situation. I hope he will reconsider after what I hope is a bombardment of emails to him! I just sent mine off...

Krisann9 said...

I sent a email last night and got this speedy reply:

Automatic reply: Bounty program alive and well at St. Philomene's

Is that true? I hope so!

Cynthia said...

I pray that the message that Krisann9 posted is true, and the program has been re-opened. This brings tears to my eyes. For all involved, I pray for the best. Please let us know what is happening. I will send an email and/or call if this does not get resolved.

Leslie Harris said...

A quick update to all my amazing friends leaving comments and emails:
I just found out that the priest has left for a week long seminar, and has not granted access to the kitchen or gym. The volunteers remain unable to serve dinners. And the bishop is out until the 17th! Although I'm told he is getting his emails.
Honestly, I'm stunned by the insensitivity, can anyone think of a seminar more urgent than hundreds of needy people being denied food again?!!
If you're reading this, please tweet, and share this topic with as many people as you like. Your support will make the difference.


Carla from The River said...

Keep us posted.
Prayers to all and that this will be cleared up soon!
Thank you for standing up.

Carla

Sheepskins fairylights said...

Out of touch, blinkered to the harsh reality of every day for so many people, here in the UK too there are people living in poverty, some people don't realise, I know because of the job I do.
When I voice things,say at a party, people look at me like I'm crazy!!
I truly hope this situation is addressed very soon.
I will email too!!
Xx

Sheepskins fairylights said...

Change.org is a good place to start but it takes more time, when this situation could be resolved instantly! Xx

hazel marec said...

Dear Gwen, I sent an email to Bishop Soto just now. I sent you a copy of it to mizgmoss@yahoo.com
I am praying that your wonderful Bounty Program is reopened immediately! Thank you for putting the word out. God bless all of the volunteers and all who enable it to happen. Thank you for being a messenger of love, and for caring so deeply!
Laura Marec

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