Service Matters – Second Week in Ordinary Time

16 January 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Second Week in Ordinary Time


A project of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in Camden, NJ,

De Sales Service Works welcomes volunteers to join

in service, prayer and learning in our struggling neighborhood.




  • Service Word
  • Last Week in Camden
  • Upcoming Events
  • Links

1. Service Word

They said to him, “Rabbi” – which translated means Teacher -,

“where are you staying?”

He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”

So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,

and they stayed with him that day.


Joseph’s House is a project begun by a group from two parishes in the city to assist homeless people who live in downtown Camden around the Cathedral—around our house.  Even though it is a Catholic project, both locations presently are located in Lutheran church halls— (the word catholic translated means all are welcome).   The first disciples ask the Lord, “Where are you staying?”   The verbal snapshots that follow offer one answer to that question.


At 9:30 each night 45 women and men file into the hall and set up for the night.   Most begin marking out their space for the night, laying out cardboard and blankets—the same as they would if outside, but the building provides cover from the weather and a sense of security.   Others find their place at tables.  A feeling of community has developed from spending winter nights together—and because most cross paths a lot during the day finding services and passing the time within the borders of the Cathedral Parish.


Once people are settled, and our vintage coffee urn goes to work, volunteers serve soup, bread, cake—whatever has been donated.   There is a great demand for warming coffee and tea, with as many scoops of sugar as possible.  A movie plays in one corner, and people talk, eat, read, or try to sleep.   Linda, a woman in her 50s, scrubs her white shoes with a toothbrush.   Bob jokes and talks at his table, coming back to the serving table for seconds, thirds, and more.   Ed repeatedly mops the floor where he will sleep, before laying out his matt.   James has his usual place snug against a wall, halfway under the wooden microwave table.   Omar, about 24, back from jail over Christmas and New Years bounces around the room, talking and joking.   His mother is there too, resting her head on a table, along with a sister and brother also in their early 20s.   Ann, the night’s coordinator, finds new guests and fills out intake interview forms.   Shabir, another staff member, with a deep calm, takes care of the warm beverages—and shares his peaceful nature with the group.


One evening last week a man came by with an offer of donated blankets.  We talked, and he said he could see we were feeding the body, and he “assumed” we were also feeding he soul.    Without thinking I said, “Yes,” imagining him looking for a way to preach a zealous hell and damnation message.   This was not a completely fair judgement, based on a five minute conversation, but he did give the impression of someone with a “black and white” way of looking at things.


We do feed body and soul, translating faith into action for people who otherwise have no safety net secure enough to keep them from ending up on the streets in the bitter winter.   Faith is the motive and guide for the action.


-Take a moment to give thanks for the “safety nets” —family, education, “domestic tranquility,” health, sobriety, skill and work ethic, gift— that keep you “off the streets.”

-Where can you find the Lord staying?

-What are some ways you answer his invitation to come and see?


2. Last Week in Camden

All week 15 members of University of Wisconsin Catholic community prayed, worked, and reflected at DSW.   I mentioned in the last newsletter that their first project Sunday, repairing fences for two abandoned yards in our alley, had been quickly undone.   But they got back to the alley to redo their work and even to secure a third abandoned yard.   Part of the group got to spend each morning of the week assisting in school; others served sandwiches, or worked at the day shelter, and visited tent city.   In addition, each night to group took turns, four at a time, at Joseph House night shelter; they readily connected with guests with care and respect.   Saturday morning, after pictures and farewells they got on the road back to Madison.

10:00 that same morning, Lourdes Gonzales, and DSW community member, Tim Gallagher, gathered graduates of the Cathedral Parish grade school, now in high school, at New Visions day shelter to share a delicious lunch with homeless guests.


After lunch I drove down 95 to Reston, VA, to speak at evening Masses Saturday and Sunday at St. John Neumann Parish for the Oblate Annual Appeal.   This collection benefits: 1. The formation of our seminarians; 2. The care for older and retired Oblates; 3. Oblate sponsored projects, particularly our Nativity School  in Wilmington, DE, and DSW.   St. John’s has been a great DSW supporter; a group came to Camden this summer to present the same Vacation Bible Camp they produced at their parish.   They also sent us hundreds of children’s coats in the fall.


3. Upcoming Events

Today 20 students from Paul IV High School here in New Jersey will have a “day on”, serving in honor of great American and Christian, Martin Luther King, Jr.    They will staff sandwich ministry for the day and will paint with Ken in the Cathedral.


Paula Riley and kids will bring coats for men and women at Joseph’s House collected at Our Mother of Consolation Parish in Philadelphia.   We always need coats; our people are outside so much of the day, even in the bitter cold.


4. Links

Ginny Licata, is a weekly volunteer at our sandwich ministry.   When she is in the kitchen, we have delicious homemade soup to warm and nourish the 150 to 350 people who come for a bit of lunch each weekday.   Ginny also volunteers in Viet Nam each summer for the month of June teaching English to Jesuit seminarians.   She asked if we could invite others to participate in this amazing service.   Email her for more information:


J.J. Stinson is a Ireton graduate who was on the first DSW service retreat Palm Sunday weekend 2009 and was just here for Fr. Don Heet’s associate retreat 2012.   He has just begun a semester abroad in Switzerland and is writing a blog as required by his program.   Check out his insightful reflection about Camden’s tent city inspired by a visit to Milan’s cathedral, its duomo.

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