Remembering homeless, who died on streets
Hal Jefferson, 56, knows too well what life is like on the streets of New Orleans, having been homeless for several years. But earlier this year, with the help of case managers from the Harry Tompson Center at the Rebuild Center, he obtained housing and his health has improved.
He told his story Dec. 2 at the Interfaith Prayer Service for New Orleans Homeless at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans.
“Working and sleeping on the streets is a big challenge,” Jefferson said, recalling how he was attacked but he never gave up, maintained joy in his heart, kept God by his side and clung to the notion that it was important to help others, no matter his own situation. “Life is not always fair. Bad things happen to good people.”
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who participated in the prayer service, said it was important “to lift up to the Lord those who are homeless in our streets” and also remember the homeless individuals who have “died on our streets.”
“We commit them to the Lord’s healing, we pray for their eternal rest and pray for the safety of those who still remain on our streets,” he said.
Various religious leaders – whom Archbishop Aymond called “one family of God” reaching out to the poor and homeless – read from the Qu’ran in Arabic; the Jewish Scriptures in Hebrew; the Christian Scriptures in Spanish; the Psalms in English; and the Buddhist sacred text.
Sometimes, just a friendly ear
Bishop Duncan Gray of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lakeview reflected on his time ministering to the homeless at the Rebuild Center. He said many have asked him to pray with them for a home, a job, the return of children or curbing their anger. Sometimes, he said, they just need someone to talk to them so they feel loved.
“We are all homeless, exiles, refugees without a real destiny, a real home, Bishop Gray said. “We get a glimpse here and there when love shows up in unexpected places and often in upside down ways.
“If we are honest, we go about our lives and we know that life is hard. It’s hard for us all. Sometimes, the problems seem too great, the challenges, too much. ... It’s in those moments ... I know the providential hand of God.”
He then sang “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and said those who have died on the streets of New Orleans are remembered and now at home (with the Lord).
“They are touched,” he said, noting that everyone, even though on different paths, has been given by God to each other to help those less fortunate.
The prayer service also emphasized the worth of every person.
“Every person brings a unique light in this world,” said Deacon Ron Guidry of St. Louis Cathedral. “Today we honor the homeless of our city whose light has been extinguished and entrust their souls to the goodness and mercy of God.”
Deacon Guidry then recited the names of 16 people who have died on the streets of New Orleans as candles were lit for them.
The congregation offered special prayers for people who do not have adequate shelter to live or raise a family and those with no shelter; for people living in spaces so small that they don’t have privacy; for the sick with no access to safe, affordable housing; and those living in conditions that cause a loss of dignity and hope.
Prayer of gratitude
Also remembered were those who do live in safe and comfortable shelter, that they might be grateful and inspired to improve access to housing for the poor. Those made homeless by war or other intolerable conditions must be welcomed as children of the same God, one prayer implored.
“God, fill us with compassion for all those who have no shelter but the shelter of your gracious love and care,” Deacon Guidry said. “Give us the strength to reach out to each other in love and establish a new vision of community where all have adequate homes.”
Archbishop Aymond reiterated the importance of Jefferson sharing his story.
“Your words tonight remind us in our society we often think of the homeless as invisible,” he said. “You remind us to open our eyes and see the homeless as our brothers and sisters ... “(The service was) an opportunity for each of us to recommit ourselves to again to say to the Lord to ‘Use me to reach out to the homeless’ ... To Go forth in action to witness and love.”
Archbishop Aymond invited everyone to light a candle, place it on the altar and say a prayer as “a sign of our desire to be a light to those who live in darkness, to be a light to those who have no home and to be a light to those who have died on the streets.”
The event encouraged everyone not to forget the plight of the homeless.
“It’s very important that we do this because we have to, because we are one world, one family of humanity,” said Father Buddy Noel who led the opening prayer. He is director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and helped organized the event with the Ignatian Spirituality Project, the Harry Thompson Center, Catholic Charities and others. “Pope Francis himself has underscored this on his recent trip to Africa by his visit to a mosque in a war zone. He legitimized it by going there. God alone is the way.”