Tuesday, January 10, 2023

God is so Good

The blessings continue as we are about to begin our tenth year of walking the streets, seeking out the most wounded, and bringing the love of Christ to each and all. Perhaps the high point of the year was a skyline in Portland after the sun had already set. We were walking the camps by SE 92nd and Powell when we noticed that the sun had sent up its rays over the horizon, culminating in a cross that looked remarkably like the Sacred Heart symbol we wear.
Earlier in the year I attended the Sacra Liturgia conference in San Francisco, and sought out blessings for our work from Cardinals Pell and Sarah, as well as Archbishop Cordileone.
At the end of the 2022, the Urban Missionaries from the Philippines sought out permission from their bishop to begin life as religious. They were given the go ahead, and received their habits in an investiture ceremony. They each have prior experience in relgious life with the Missionaries of the Poor, and that experience should serve them well.
Finally, we rarely update this old blog, and so look for us on Facebook. We have a public page that is open to all--whether a person has a Facebook account or not.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

A Great Description Of What We Do

 Catholic World Report has a great write-up on the apostolate.  You can find that article here.

Our public Facebook page is our web platform now.  Anyone can access it, whether they are on Facebook or not.  We offer stories from the streets a couple of times each week.  Click here.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Don't Forget to Follow Us on Facebook

We post here on Facebook several times per week.

We've remained as busy as ever during the Covid-19 outbreak.  Providentially, Oregon has mostly been spared, as have the local homeless, and so we have continued to walk 2-3 times per week.  Enjoy the photos below!

Distributing blessed palms on Palm Sunday
Ministering in a time of social distancing

A home-made chicken vegetable soup for our homeless friends
Nothing says "Jesus Loves" like Costco muffins ;-)

Our St. Patrick's Day walk included Irish coffee, cheeseburgers, a processional banner and relics of Sts. Charles Borromeo & Aloysius Gonzaga to ward off Covid-19

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas Approaches!

Here are some of our "best-of" stories from our Facebook page.  We usually post there twice a week.

Darkness Into Light

Advent is the darkest time of the year, only to bring forth Jesus, the light of the world. We toil, often in the dark, but Jesus transforms our toil into something unspeakably beautiful. Shawn Natola described this in an e-mail he sent me from the road:
"The Lord has called you and all of my dear friends out of complacency to bold action for His "little ones". How many times were our hearts broken open walking the streets, listening to tales of suffering. The Lord has used us to inject hope into a world that is (humanly speaking) totally desolate. You showed me countless times what it means to abandon oneself into the arms of our Heavenly Father to take what we receive from the streets and place it into the chalice of salvation at every mass. I cannot recall all of the times that I have served at the altar and as Fr. Andersen or Fr. Boyle would place those few drops of water into the chalice I would name those we met on the streets or the Urban Missionaries themselves. And it is interesting how those few drops of water (our tears, hopes, joys, sorrows and sufferings) are completely lost in the Ocean of mercy which is the wine soon to be the Precious Blood."

Goodbye Shawn

This week we said our goodbyes to one of our “founding” members. Shawn Natola (pictured w/ Fr. Boyle) is driving across America as you read this, heading back home to South Boston to care for his mother.
Shawn first began to walk with us about three years ago. In that time, we’ve seen just about everything on the streets—the good, the bad and the ugly. Shawn’s first few walks were especially ugly, as though the Devil was determined to drive him from the apostolate.

On his first walk we encountered Cindi, the hardest of hard cases who had a knack for sweet-talk, thievery, lying and brawling. Cindi could instantly transform from a charming, feminine woman to a boiling, inferno of rage in a matter of moments. One night along SE 82nd, we encountered Cindi and had our usual conversation. As we talked, we watched as she tried to unhook a tarp she had tried to secret over a fence. Upon saying goodbye, Shawn gave her one of his trademark affable smiles. Cindi somehow interpreted this as an insult, and came storming back hurling curse words and threatening to punch him out. We tried to calm Cindi as Shawn stood pale with shock. Shawn is a gentleman if anyone is, and he was unaccustomed to the, ahem, social graces of the likes of Cindi. Eventually we calmed Cindi down (sort of) and moved on. A short time later we ran into some old street friends who asked us if we had seen Cindi, for she just stole their tarp and other items!

A few months later we were walking SE 82nd again (we are fools for punishment), and again Shawn was tempted to abandon walking the streets. This was the first time we met Rachel, who eventually became one of our favorites, and whom we would especially pray for and seek out. At the time, Rachel was a feisty eighteen year-old from a very broken home, and was just developing a heroin addiction. She looked upon us with skepticism as we tried to win her over. Then a seventy-year old man with a skeletal look, driving a brand new SUV pulled up and she got in his car in the parking lot behind us. The skeletal man would pay her seventy dollars for what transpired in the few minutes she was in the car. In those few minutes, Shawn seethed with righteous anger, but I explained we had to take it, just as Jesus chose to take it on the cross. I told him we were in it for the long haul for Rachel, and if we intervened we would be persona non grata on 82nd, and Rachel would just find a new customer after we left. In fact, we have been a constant in Rachel’s life, and she is very fond of us in her sassy way. She also gave up prostitution a long time ago.

Shawn might be an Urban Missionary for life. He’s going to walk the streets of South Boston just as he has here. He is hoping to rope in some laymen from a good parish run by Capuchins, and perhaps the occasional Capuchin as well. In the few years I've known Shawn, I've watched him grow in holiness and consequently become a leader, and a man who attracts other people to him. That's what happens when you become healed-in-Christ. You become "a man fully alive" (as St. Ireneaus put it), and you are given the holy strength to bring God's patience, love and healing to others.

A Little Humor

An exclusive look inside the kitchen of Urban Missionaries :-)  We made a chicken and vegetable soup, with a healthy serving of Serrano Ham (thank you Spain!).

Lumberjacks for Christ

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink." (Matthew 25:35) I was cold, and you found wood for my fire? 

Last weekend we found some shivering homeless campers on a trail above I-205. They had run out of wood, and were too tired and disoriented to find more. So Jonathan and I set about scavenging for wood. It was slim pickings until I found a dead fir tree about the size of a Christmas tree. It took a little work to uproot it, but we got the jog done. it was a joyous moment to drag the tree back to the camp. We love to serve Jesus, and everyone He came down to redeem. Glory be to God!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

A Busy Summer

We continue to walk 2-3 days per week, and have increasingly focused on downtown Portland.  At this point, there are six of us who go out every week, and 4-5 others who join when they can.  We typically post one or two stories on Facebook every week, so join us there if you can.  I've compiled some recent stories below...

Pain & Grace at the Corpus Christi Procession

We try to bring grace to ugly situations. Earlier today things got ugly at the Corpus Christi procession in the downtown Park Blocks. The procession stopped at the Blocks to adore the Blessed Sacrament and pray a communal rosary. But one regular denizen of the Park Blocks, Michael started screaming all manner of things against the Catholic Church, and then another Parks Block resident, Stuart, (seated next to me in the photo) began yelling back at Michael. Michael was ushered away by a young Catholic man, and then Michael spilled his story to us.
It turns out that Michael and his brother were molested as teens by at least one Franciscan priest. They came from a broken home, were referred for counseling at Dammasch State Hospital, and then were preyed on by Franciscans who were affiliated with the hospital. Michael is Italian, was raised Catholic, and I found him completely credible. I emphatically thanked him for telling his story, and shared my love and care. It's extremely important that the Church listen with love to men like Michael. I'm sure some people thought he was an angry, homeless crank, but he's not homeless and he's not a crank. I've seen him before at the Park Blocks--a retired single man with his little dog--and I always wondered why he was so frosty to us. The Park Blocks are his place of peace, and when the procession wound through he completely lost it. There was grace there for everyone, and we left on good terms. He apologized and said he knows there are many good priests. I pray he continues to drain that wound and accept healing. 
I made fast friends with Stuart, an older alcoholic man who tried to scream down Michael. Stuart had a remarkable grasp of the Scriptures, and told me, "I was raised the right way." He acknowledged that screaming at Michael was wrong, and then he launched into some lengthy soul searching. He is frustrated and somewhat baffled that he loses his fight with the bottle nearly every day. He quoted the famous verse from St. Paul (Romans 7:15): "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate." I commiserated with him, and we talked about God's mysterious plan of salvation. I shared the story of Venerable Matt Talbot, and how fighting the bottle was Matt's path to salvation. Stuart was delighted when I gave him a rosary, and he was eager to learn how to pray it. He quickly grasped that the rosary is a meditative prayer that centers on the Gospels. We had a final laugh when I sneakily placed a couple of cigarettes next to him on the bench. Eventually he noticed them and proclaimed, "Its a miracle! Miracles do happen!"
Talking to Stuart as the procession continues on.

Getting off the Streets

More of our old friends from NE 82nd are getting off of the streets. Earlier in the week I told Jeff's story, and now Tom and Angela are off heroin and in permanent housing. Tom and Angela are a couple who first met on the streets several years ago. 
The first time I met them, I was befuddled as to what they were doing out there. They seemed to have it together, and had a maturity and social skills that can be rare on the streets. Then I saw a larger part of the picture the second time I met them at a homeless camp along Interstate-84. I had boxes of goodies, including deli meats, cinnamon rolls and cheesecake slices. I tried to distribute things fairly, and the homeless are usually good at sharing. Unfortunately Lexi was a bit too pushy about wanting some of Angela's cinnamon rolls, and Angela lashed out. A brief skirmish ensued, and I was impressed with Tom's cool in physically breaking up the fight and pushing for reconciliation. 
It turns out that Angela has been on the streets on and off for fifteen years, since she ran away from home as a teenager. She learned to be a fighter in that time, though she's also a sweet woman. She sincerely apologized to me the week following the scuffle. Her moral compass works, and she cares about other people and herself.
Tom grew up in a home with a loving mother and a step-father who treated him like his own son. Tom's biological father was a career criminal, and was eventually given a life sentence. Tom went off the rails when young, and landed in the same prison as his father, though he didn't know it. When Tom ended up in the Oregon State Penitentiary infirmary, his biological father reached out to him for the first time. It was an important moment of healing for Tom. His recent struggle with homelessness is the first and only time he's lived on the streets.
Nowadays Tom is clean and Angela is on methadone. They have jobs and are recently married. They even bought fancy wedding rings, with the help of a loan. They've each ministered in the past at protestant churches, and Angela suggested they should become Catholic. It was a moment of enthusiasm, and maybe they will. I took it as a sign that they appreciate us and what we do.
Thank you to Jacob for walking with me that day. We felt called to take a new, unusual route by the Willamette River, and the Holy Spirit came though by reuniting us with Tom and Angela. Glory be to God!  

And more good news:

Yesterday we heard some good news from Jeff, a high-functioning homeless man that we've known for several years. 
The first time we met Jeff he told us that he had been attending the First Saturday masses at The Grotto. Jeff was raised Catholic, and he always struck us as a simple guy with a good heart. God gave him a strong frame and he usually worked as a day laborer. I remember one time witnessing his raw hands from tossing old concrete. I always thought that Jeff was an ideal candidate to get off the streets, and now he has. He's got a job and an apartment out in Beaverton. Yesterday he was out in NE visiting old friends. He was happy to see us, and declined any of our usual goods. He doesn't need them anymore, and Jeff was never the type to take what he didn't need. 
One of Jeff's chief characteristics is loyalty. He stands by people. We just pray that he doesn't get dragged back down by some of his old friends. Some are good people, like Old Man Mike, the artist, but others are users (in more ways than one). Please keep Jeff in your prayers. He's a tough guy, but he's also like a child in many ways.

Some very sad news

We often go through the chest-high weeds looking for the lost sheep. It's painful when we find the sheep, but then they die. This Sunday we lost an old friend of the apostolate, TT, who was found hung in one of the local nature parks.
TT was a twenty-something young black man who was always thin and typically wore outlandish clothing. The first time I met TT he was wearing American flag spandex shorts and a matching top. He looked like a gay Captain America. At night, TT was a fixture along NE 82nd, selling himself for sexual favors, sometimes dressed as a woman.
TT was always happy to see us. He would recklessly dash across four lanes of night time traffic to greet us, and enjoy our hospitality. He always had time for us, and was almost always cheerful and funny. He had no enemies, except himself, his heroin suppliers and the demons whom hunt us all. 
TT was usually wearing one of our rosaries, at least during the day. One evening I noticed he didn't have a rosary and offered him one. He politely but firmly rebuffed me, saying he doesn't wear it while "working". I was appropriately chastened because I knew he was "hooking" right then. TT had preserved some sense of the sacred and the honor owed to God through it all. Bless him for that. 
TT's death is a hard loss. He is already missed. Please storm Heaven with your prayers. Thank you.

The city piles boulders to prevent homeless "camping"

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Recent Adventures

Since some people aren't on Facebook, I'll occasionally gather together stories and photos and re-post them here. Apologies for the formatting glitches...


Sometimes we'll see such painful things on the streets, that I ask myself, "How did I get here doing this?" When I was younger in the faith--a "baby Christian"--I surrounded myself with the beautiful things of God: majestic vistas while mountain hiking, the sublime history of art and music of the Church, I enjoyed mystical works and deep peaceful prayer, and I helped raise our beautiful babies. Then God said it was time to emerge from this protected place, and go amongst the ugly things. But I was only leaving Jesus to find Jesus again in many of the poor, and I was bringing Jesus (hopefully) to many others. This last Sunday's walk brought much of this home.

We had many edifying conversations along SE 122nd (which I'll write about later), but the walk ended with a delightful homeless girl named "Adeline" amidst sloshing sewage. Adeline was playing outside her broken-down RV as her parents argued inside. The mother, Amanda, was shouting at her man, "I am so sick of this!" He was moving about frenetically without much purpose, probably on crystal meth. Our presence ended the conflict.

I learned Adeline was three, and began to empty my rolling cooler of anything that might delight her: a rosary, trail mix, candy canes, and a figurine from a Nativity set. We had found some smashed figurines along Springwater corridor months before, and I gathered them up. The figure of a shepherd boy holding a lamb was preserved, and so I gave it to Adeline. While Adeline's parents were in a bad state, Adeline was oblivious, full of the innocence and joy of a tiny child. (Thanks be to God.) She brought out a doll from the movie Frozen. It was the character "Anna", and so I began to sing, "Do you want to build a snowman?" I didn't get very far into the song before I was undone by tears. I had sung that song many times with my daughter at home, and I couldn't bear what I was seeing.

The father mentioned that they were about to be towed, and asked if we could help push the motor home to a different spot. We agreed, even though the RV smelled like raw sewage. We pushed and groaned and hoped the speeding cars wouldn't clip one of us. About every thirty feet a puddle of sewage would splash down as we pushed with all of our might. We got the job done but received little thanks. Adeline had gone inside and so there were no goodbyes.

I'll continue to pray for Adeline and her parents throughout the coming years. We know Jesus is Lord, that he has conquered, and that our true home is in Heaven. He has a perfect plan for every one of us, provided we come to Him like little children.

A Providential Encounter

About once a week I still walk solo. I also look for opportunities to witness as I go about my daily activities. Today had a marvelous moment thanks to Divine Providence. I was running errands to gather everything we would need to welcome a new Malamute/Husky puppy into our home (puppies are proof that God is good!). As I was driving away from Petsmart, I passed a 30ish homeless man delivering an angry monologue to himself. I listened: "People only care about themselves! Everyone is narcissistic! America has gone to Hell!" As the flow of traffic carried me away, I thought, "I'm going to circle back around and show him it's not all bad. I've got a trunk load of stuff I just bought at Costco."

I parked in the direction he was walking and hailed him. His anger immediately faded when I asked if he wanted free Gatorade and gloves. He said he had just given his gloves to a friend and had cold hands. I gave him an extra pair to also give away. I complimented him on the simple wooden cross he wore around his neck. I explained that my friends and I often walk further north helping the homeless. His name was "John" and he grew up nearby in the little town of Damascus. He lamented the increase in "meth crimes" for towns like Damascus. When I offered him a few cigarettes, he was buoyant, "Wow! Are you for real?" After that we settled in and had a good talk--including swapping stories about malamutes preferring to sleep on ice all Winter.

I regretted when I had to leave to pick up my daughter from school. John's day had dramatically changed thanks to God's grace and a little moxie on my part. We've all seen angry or disoriented homeless. Almost all of us just keep driving, and sometimes that is God's will. But other times we're called to step out, and exercise our Baptism as "new creations in Christ". So go boldly forth in peace and friendship, and be a "little Christ" to those whom God has put in your path. God's grace will surprise you.

Suffering with the Poor

On Saturday we walked after dark for three hours in the brutal cold along SE 82nd and 92nd. It was about 15 degrees after factoring in a cruel wind. Afterwards I reflected to myself, "You haven't really lived until you've walked around seeking out junkies on a bitter cold night."

The night was full of bonhomie and gallows humor. Our homeless friends love it when we are out there suffering alongside of them. One hobo regaled us with a lighthearted monologue on his rubber gloves, noting that they utterly failed in every type of weather, actually increasing his misery by trapping in moisture or cold. Later a young man rode up on a bike and told a funny tale: "People kept telling me I needed to hurry up because there were three monks wandering around giving away stuff. At first I ignored them. I thought everyone was just crazy or high, but here you are!" We got a good laugh at being described as monks.

Out in SE and NE we are spoiled by gratitude and many friends. It's not that way everywhere. The following day Nick and I were going to set out from the Cathedral in NW, but the first two people I met were not friendly. One of them, a grim young man in dark shades even spit on the Cathedral wall to make his point. So we drove down to Holy Rosary and had a spirit-filled adventure around that neighborhood. There, too, things started out ugly with an angry young African-American man named "G". But patience and charity prevailed on all sides, and we would later part amicably from G, even talking some theology on the intercession of the saints.

I'm grateful that we felt called to change locations, because we found our homeless friend Errol violently shivering in the shade under scanty covering. I begged him to go into the warm church, but he declined as always (he is very shy). He asked for blankets, and we managed to find two, including one donated from Fr. Dismas Sayre, OP. The highlight of the day was our long talk with Lisha, Scotte and Mike. They each in their own way had struggled with homelessness or alcoholism, but now were off the streets (or the bottle). Each of them were grateful to God, like little children, and they asked to walk with us in the future! Glory be to God.


We've known Lexi for a couple of years now (she's in the foreground of the photo). She's friendly, charismatic and tough, and so is the informal boss of homeless camps around NE 82nd. She also has a motherly heart. Last Summer she gathered up wild blackberries and cooked blackberry pancakes for everyone at a giant, sprawling camp off I-84. Lexi is also a heroin addict. She told me that her mom "has the same vice". She said she and her mother "are more like sisters"; they were even pregnant at the same time when Lexi was a teenager (she had a daughter).

Last January 5th Lexi briefly died from a heroin overdose. It was at her grandmother's house (where her mother usually stays). After injecting herself, she slowly drifted off and things slowed down until her heart stopped. Lexi felt herself leaving her body, light as a feather, and remembers a growing light. Then everything went dark and cold and she was back in her body thanks to paramedics. Her mom had discovered her and called 911. Lexi feels terrible for putting her mother and grandmother through that, and so she has stopped shooting-up. Lexi can't bear the thought of losing her mother, and the feeling is mutual. Lexi asked for one of our hoodies, and Jonathan gave up his.

Our hoodies have a giant photograph of Blessed Charles de Foucauld on the back. We entrust Lexi to his prayers, and always commend her to Jesus Christ. It would be a hard loss to lose Lexi.

Moved to Share

This ministry is remarkably weird and always full of the unexpected. If you're someone who likes to write, walking the streets as we do would furnish you with endless stories. We have plenty of stories from the last couple of weeks, but many of them are heart-wrenching and so I've remained silent. I'll share those stories later. For now I'd like to share two unlikely episodes of grace.

Yesterday we walked NE 82nd from 2-6pm. At one point we got separated into two groups, with Nick and Jonathan following far behind. We were heading back to the homeless camps after replenishing our supply of burgers, when a ten year old boy popped out of nowhere. He approached Jonathan and Nick and insisted that they share a pack of doughnuts that the boy had. It was very important to the boy that they accept his gift. Nick and Jonathan were baffled, if only because the experience had that weird quality one finds in the lives of the saints--as though the boy might be a heavenly visitor. A more likely scenario is that the boy had seen us earlier (or in past months) sharing our goods with the poor, and was just waiting for the opportunity to see us again and break bread (or doughnuts!) with us. Bless his impulsive heart.

Shortly before this episode, we were talking with many old street friends outside of JOIN. Nick and Jonathan met a new man, Daniel, and learned his life story. Daniel was an older African-American man who used to work at the Port of Portland. After he lost his job there, his life began to crumble. He developed severe diabetes. He had no feeling in his swollen feet and couldn't walk. He begged for water and some food. Jonathan asked to look at his feet, and massaged them. He rubbed his feet until they could move again. Then Nick and Jonathan rounded up a bunch of water and made a special trip to Wendy's for Daniel. Jonathan is the only person I know who would massage the feet of a homeless man. Perhaps that is why a boy mysteriously appeared with a gift of doughnuts.

The photo I've included is a kind of metaphor for our apostolate. If you look closely at our feet, the ground is strewn with syringes--with the needles still attached! The red, needle disposal bucket (marked "hazardous waste") is turned over and empty. Usually addicts are careful in disposing of used needles. The woman in the photo is Bree, a homeless woman we've known for over a year. She was following us from tent site to tent site, guiding us and sharing our friendship.