Last month on November 3, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Martin de Porres, a Dominican brother who cared for the poor and the sick of Lima, Peru in the late 1500s. Renowned for his humility and charity, Saint Martin always sought to serve God and others, heeding the greatest commandments: “to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34).
At St. Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, we have a great devotion to Saint Martin. Along with two other Dominicans, Saint Rose and Saint Juan Macias, he is one of the patrons of the Lima Center, our drop-in center for the homeless.
I’ve been the director of the Lima Center and St. Dominic’s Community Outreach for a little over three months, and in that time I’ve learned a great deal about the homeless in our city.
Like many people throughout our country today, most of our guests were living paycheck to paycheck. But the sudden loss of a job or a family member’s illness started them on a downward spiral from which they could not escape. Bills began to pile up, and soon they were being evicted from their homes. They did not choose to be on the streets, but there was little they could do without the proper resources.
While we cannot solve the problem of homelessness and poverty, the community at St. Dominic’s works to bring hope in the midst of despair.
In conjunction with the SF-Marin Food Bank, we host a food pantry on Mondays that provides groceries to 25 families each week. The rest of the week, the Lima Center provides food for 20-50 guests a day, with breakfast 4x a week, and lunch twice a week. In addition to getting socks and underwear upon request, our guests are also able to sign up for showers or to do a load of laundry.
It’s said that Saint Martin fed almost 200 people a day in Lima, and we are well on our way providing hundreds of meals a week. And it’s all thanks to Sister Anne Bertain, O.P., and the late Fr. Victor Cavalli, O.P., who started our outreach program for the homeless in 1979. And it has only grown since then.
Today we provide assistance with rent, utilities and medical bills to families and individuals in dire need. In partnership with St. Ignatius Catholic Church, the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta, and our case manager from Catholic Charities, we are able to help more people than ever get back on their feet.
And like Saint Martin, our concern isn’t simply our neighbors physical needs. We also care about their spiritual welfare. So Br. Paschal, one of our student brothers, recently began a lectio group with our guests. They read a passage from Scripture, discuss its meaning and then share their reflections and prayers. And for those who cannot make it to the Lima Center, two of our novices, Br. Koa Mary and Br. Diego Maria, along with another student, Br. Athanasius, have decided to hit the streets. Once a week, they make their way to the Tenderloin, taking socks and rosaries, meeting people, praying with them and listening to their stories and struggles while sharing the Faith.
As we approach this holiday season, a time of giving thanks and remembering the Incarnation of our Lord as a poor child in Bethlehem, I am grateful for this opportunity to serve God, the parishioners of St. Dominic’s, and our local community. With the help of the friars and our generous benefactors, I know that we can do great things and radiate the joy of the Gospel to all we meet. Saint Martin, Saint Rose and Saint Juan, pray for us!
To learn more about the Lima Center and how you can help those in need, listen to my interview with Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P., on the the St. Dominic’s Weekly podcast here, or subscribe via iTunes or GooglePlay on our website here. You may also make a gift to the ministry here. Be sure to enter the amount and to include “St. Dominic’s Lima Center” in the Comments section.
Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.
Director | St. Dominic’s Community Outreach