Brother Andre Series: Number Seven
People from our neighborhood pour into our small lobby for a Friday evening meal. Our neighbors living in single-room occupancy hotels socialize on the sidewalk outside the Downtown Chapel. Members of other parishes volunteer monthly to create their special recipes for soup. They provide sufficient welcome with sandwiches and fruit at our red doors in downtown Portland. Our parishioners pour lemonade and brewed Fair Trade coffee. We welcome familiar faces that live outside and make sure people know they know they are more important than even the food.
We serve food in our lobby and on our street corner for many reasons. This low-barrier event welcomes people who normally fear institutions and especially churches. We continue this soup supper outside even in the pouring rain because so many drug dealers use our sidewalk. For a couple of hours on Friday nights, we claim the sidewalk ourselves to satisfy human hunger as well as a deeper hunger for belonging and community. Our presence outside also shows local business people and folks attending bars and restaurants that we are a Christian presence in the neighborhood.
Since Brother Andre served as porter in Montreal, we name this evening meal to honor him. The Brother Andre Café serving at our front door attracts dozens of student volunteers from the University of Portland and many other colleges, high schools and grade schools throughout the year. Volunteers from several Portland parishes including Holy Redeemer and alumni of the University of Notre Dame all cook soup and purchase peanut butter and bread for sandwiches.
Brother Andre practiced mortification even in his diet. Even though he was sickly throughout his life, he ate very little food. His favorite food was a mixture of flour and hot water. His restrained diet sometimes included a simple pea soup or beans. He rarely served meat when he hosted people in his simple room above the chapel where he lived. He rarely ate with his Holy Cross community because of the demands of his role as porter.
His diet was also an extension of his spirituality. Brother Andre wanted to identify with people who were hungry so he would be hungry for God alone. He never wanted to go against his vows of poverty even concerning his own health. Even his friends could not talk him into a full course meal or a rich dessert.
Our staff and volunteers at the Downtown Chapel admire Brother Andre’s quest to place his life among people living in poverty, those whom he chose to serve. During our Friday evening meal we see the dire effects of physical hunger among our guests. We also witness the deeper hunger of people who desire a voice in society, who wait for their daily bread and who long to find their authentic place around God’s table.