Lenten Reflections 2016

February 10, 2016 • Pope Francis announced the start of an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy in December, saying he wants to make it evident that the Church’s mission is to be a witness of compassion. Then in January in his annual message to kickoff the upcoming 40-day Lenten season, he calls on us to,

Overcome our existential alienation” by listening to God and practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. According to the Gospel, he says, those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the infirm, give counsel, and practice forgiveness do so as though to Christ himself.

– Pope Francis, January 2016

 Pope Francis’ Lenten message aligns with St. Francis Center’s ongoing mission to feed, serve, and walk with the poor as a community of hope in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. We are not just providing for our homeless and extremely low-income guests’ corporal needs through our hot breakfasts, to-go lunches and pantry services, but we also serve hope by taking time to listen to our guests and treat them with dignity.

Br. Raul Diaz, Order of Friars Minor, joined our staff just before the start of the Lenten season as a chaplain. Br. Raul (left) has been volunteering at St. Francis Center (SFC) since September 2015 to help out with our served meals and pantry services. Since he joined us, we have witnessed his deep commitment to sharing his Franciscan charism with our guests. His presence during our programs allows for natural interaction with our guests, in which he has been able to build a rapport and provide for their material and spiritual needs.IMG_2986

Br. Raul was born in El Salvador and he and his four siblings were raised by his mother as his father passed away when he was just three years old. A year later, he lost hearing in one ear from a damaged inner ear. At age 18, his mother sent him to California to live with family because his only other option would have been to join the army during the civil war. With no school and limited money, Raul lived in survival mode working as a janitor, dishwasher and berry picker in the fields just to get by.

In his early 20s, he had an epiphany where he felt it was his calling to pursue religious life. During this time of discernment, he first became acquainted with the Franciscan order through the Oregon community. He engaged in ministry with youth groups at a parish and was a jail minister, which solidified that he was chosen to take the religious path in life.

In 2009, he went to Phoenix to attend junior college, but he felt frustrated because he could not speak English and he felt isolated – an ongoing challenge of his hearing impairment. But it was in Arizona that he met a homeless man whose advice to “not stray from his given path” resonated with him.

It is through these experiences that Br. Raul felt that the sense of community and walking with others was the most important aspect of his calling.

In 2011, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and also received a surgery to restore some of his hearing. Not only could he hear better following the procedure, but he found himself able to speak better. He also was no longer self-conscious about how his voice sounded to others.

Br. Raul says this physical change led to a much bigger spiritual awakening for him.  He says his faith also has played a big part in his spiritual growth. When he was in Oregon, he bought two Bibles, one in English and one in Spanish, and read out loud to practice. Through this learning process he discovered the beauty of language through the Bible. In particular, this excerpt from Revelations 3:8 spoke to him:

“I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.”

Now at St. Francis Center, Br. Raul feels like he was called home. He connects with the sense of community here and says that it is a mutual learning experience. Not only is he serving our guests in need, but he says he feels touched by the people who come to St. Francis Center.

Just as the homeless man in Phoenix instilled hope in Br. Raul when he was struggling, he is now serving hope to our guests at St. Francis Center.

Will you join Br. Raul in feeding, serving and walking with our homeless and extremely low-income guests?

Your donation of $25, $50, $100, or even $500 will go a long way for our guests in need  this Lenten season.