Brother Andre Series: Number Two

Every weekday morning at the Downtown Chapel our parish staff and dozens of volunteers open our red steel doors to people longing for companionship and a few essentials for survival. People stream from local shelters and wait in line at the parish for clean socks or money for prescription drugs for their mental illness. A young twenty-something man just released from jail wears flip-flops and needs clothing for protection in the Portland rain. One person waits in line for a yearly haircut. A young woman cuddles her infant hoping to secure a package of diapers in our Hospitality Center.

As I enter into relationship with our volunteers and our daily guests, I realize Brother Andre’s ministry as porter. Because of his own frail nature, the Congregation of Holy Cross was reluctant to welcome him into our religious community. He persisted through prayer and pleaded with the local bishop and superiors in Holy Cross. On August 22, 1872, Andre professed his first vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience. From that day on he was assigned as porter at Notre Dame College in Montreal, Canada. The frail man who was nearly turned away from religious life became the person to welcome the stranger at the door. He persevered in that ministry until 1909.

I learn everyday the core gospel value of hospitality. Welcoming the stranger is messy, stressful and often makes us all uneasy. Opening the door to people with mental illness or drug addiction changes my perspective and my view of people. I give up judging people and I put prejudice aside. Hospitality means entering into real, authentic relationship and discovering the person of Christ in our human condition. I now realize this as Brother Andre longed to be united with Christ through suffering. Hospitality is lived here as we slowly discover the dignity of every human being and come together in faith and non-violence.

I saw hospitality in a new light last month as we welcomed the film crew from Salt + Light Television Productions from Toronto, Canada. They were here witnessing the connection of Brother Andre and ministry among people in poverty in the United States. I witnessed the producer, Mary Rose, seeing something more than the perfect shot for the documentary. She began to discover in conversations that Brother Andre lives here because of his example of welcoming people. She listened to a man express his faith and his story of mental illness. She heard people admit being sexually abused and their longing for lasting adult relationships. As the crew filmed many aspects of our community welcoming all people, I saw a new attitude within them. They were not spectators behind a camera, but people being welcomed and accepted into our community.

Brother Andre’s ministry of hospitality lives among people who live outside or who have lost their jobs. This ministry continues within Holy Cross parishes and within the Universal Church. The sickly man who welcomed the stranger teaches us all to honor the dignity of all people no matter who knocks on our door.

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