Monday, July 4, 2022
Victor Martell - St. Vincent de Paul Society
It is not uncommon to meet homeless people. We see them at the park, at highway exits, in downtown areas. We distinguish them by their demeanor and the way they manifest themselves, walking aimlessly, without any particular direction. Street begging is widespread and multiplies in many ways; in order to understand it and lend assistance, it is necessary to know and grasp its truths.
Ramon is homeless. Excluded and marginalized. He sits on the ground, or on a stone. He’s companionless. He has a very sad gaze; contemplative, like Jesus the Lord. He dresses like a poor man, very poor. He wears a long, ragged coat, old shoes, and a hat pulled tightly over his head to his eyebrows.
Ramon is not a drunkard; at least I never saw him drink, nor did his breath show the distinctive whiff of alcohol. I don't know what his sustenance is; some bread he picks up and eats with nothing to drink. Any other assistance is a mystery. Perhaps he visits some shelter.
He surrounds himself with three large paper bags. Their contents are nothing else than the many papers he collects on his path. He carries his cane over his shoulder, with his bags intertwined, which accompany him on his daily wanderings. They are his pillow and his bed, where he sleeps and rests his head. The sunset is his watch.
What struck me about Ramon is his virtue of not begging from anyone who walks by his side. This makes him an autistic panhandler, with no communication at all. No one stops to talk to Ramon, not even those from groups that feed the homeless.
One day I walked by Ramon and for some reason, I wanted to talk to him. Our conversation was a bundle of sweetness. When I looked at him, I thought of the parable of the Samaritan, of that stripped-of-everything traveler who was battered in Jericho. Placed on the saddle of compassion, he became a true exponent of the mercy of love.
But Ramon is in a different situation than the victim from the parable of the Samaritan, because he refuses the splendid help in kind and in cash that is offered to him.
I got closer to Ramon during my talks with him. Little by little he allowed me to discover his innermost self. He had no one to bring comfort to his sorrows. I wanted to help him. I wanted to ease the hardship of his life.
I achieved a lot of spiritual joy with Ramon. I discovered a world that was very complex for me, and which I myself had labeled in all kinds of ways. I thought they were all drug addicts, savages, people who hated society. How far I was from the truth!
I recommend that you approach without fear the Ramones that we find everywhere, even on street corners near your homes. You will be able to see them and recognize them. When you do, talk to them; you will learn a lot. Don't be afraid of them; don't be disgusted by them. They are your brothers and sisters, ambassadors who will enrich your contemplative prayer. You will be fortunate to be in the company of Jesus.
But do not approach them disapprovingly, nor to want them to change in a day and much less to turn away your eyes and give thanks to God because you are not the ones who are sitting there. Who knows if at some point in your lives, you may find yourselves in similar circumstances! Reach out to them to offer a few words of understanding, of love. Perhaps that could change their lives, but remember that God has the last word.
When I would say goodbye to Ramon and he would leave on his way to wherever was waiting for him, we would shake hands in an emotional farewell. I did not know if I would see him again; streets are dangerous and these poor people have many enemies. The bags, which he takes so much care of, made me think that they were his precious and sole possession and companionship.
This blog originally appeared as a column in the May 2022 edition of La Voz Católica.