by a Friar from 31st Street
I found a portal of grace in the fourth quarter of 2022. It was late September, just before the weather turned cold. I finished the 7:30 am Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street and found several young families waiting in the confessional area of the downstairs church.
At first, I thought they were there in preparation for First Communion. Then it dawned on me, these were migrant and refugee families. It was a moving scene. I immediately searched out Breadline workers and asked them to bring what they could by way of sweaters and other warm clothing.
I will never forget seeing a young boy, maybe four years old, reach into a box and pull out a cardigan. Of course, it was too big – and while it may have made for an adorable photograph, the child was cold. He was wearing summer clothes. His mother looked at me and said in her Spanish language, “zapatos.” She was wearing flip-flops that were more appropriate for a summer day at the beach, and not a crisp autumn day.
Since that morning, the friars, in cooperation with volunteers from the Migrant Center at St. Francis, have called on friends and their networks of contacts to respond to this very real crisis.
I think of that morning as a portal of grace, because now, the lobby of St. Francis is filled on Mondays and Wednesdays with families in very real need.
Recently, the southwest Connecticut Order of Malta hosted an Epiphany celebration for the migrant and refugee families. The Order of Malta was one of the first to respond to this crisis and they have not ceased helping with their time and donations of material goods.
Where once you might hear a pin drop, you now hear the wonderful sound of children. Yes, these children and their grateful parents. Families in great need of the basics that we take for granted. In return, we hear the angelic voices of these migrant children, a rare, if ever, occurrence in the church lobby.
I thank God for the generous spirit of everyone who continues to help the friars in welcoming these new neighbors. They help us understand the rule of 1223: “…the brothers are to live as pilgrims and strangers in this world, serving the Lord in poverty and humility, let them confidently go asking alms.”