Today I am linking up with Andrea on her ‘Show and Tell Tuesdays’ series! Today’s topic is: A service project or mission trip you have been a part of. This topic is very near and dear to my heart. In college I was a participant and leader in the Labre Project, a ministry at John Carroll University. My very first week as a student at John Carroll, a dear friend invited me and I was ruined for life – as the Jesuit motto goes to say. The Labre Project shares food, faith, and friendship with homeless men and women living in Cleveland.
The Labre Project started with a few students from Saint Ignatius High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school in Cleveland. A few students set out in a van with food they had left over from a school event. These students went into the streets of Cleveland and offered food to homeless individuals they saw sleeping on the streets, alleys, and sidewalks. What was beautiful is that they enjoyed it so much, they went out the next Sunday, and the next, and continued to go out every Sunday since.
The ministry name comes from Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of homeless people. The Labre Project was brought to John Carroll University by a group of Saint Ignatius alumni in 2004. The project has continued since 2004 and continues to grow and thrive to this day – never missing a week.
The purpose of Labre was never to feed the homeless. It was always about friendship… and the warm meal was a great bonus. The friendships I created through the Labre Project were mutually beneficial. My walls were broken down, I was pushed far out of my comfort zone, and I had the chance to see the face of God in every single individual I met. The individuals I met would look forward to seeing me and if I was absent would say, “where is Mary this week?” Trust me, it was rare for me to miss a Friday. I just loved it so very much.
Every Friday, students from John Carroll met at 3 PM to prepare food for the evening. The food came from the Cleveland Food Bank. We would also pack up bins filled with toiletries, socks, clothes, shoes, etc. to hand out throughout the course of the evening. My junior and senior year I served as the donations leader and coordinated our messy, messy donations room. After the food was prepared and the bins were packed, there was a brief prayer reflection in the chapel on campus which prepared our hearts and centered us on the true reason for our ministry, which was far beyond earning service hours. At the end of the evening, we would return and pray BY NAME each person we met. I say by name, because these individuals were children of God and naming them reminded us of their dignity as members of our one human family.
What would a typical night look like?
After prepping and praying, two vans would leave from John Carroll. One van would travel to the East side of Cleveland one to the West. We would visit individuals of all walks of life living in a variety of circumstances. Most individuals we met in hidden places, while others were more public. Some lived along train tracks. A few lived in low-income housing. Most of our friends we saw every.single.week. They knew where to meet us and would wait for our arrival. Others we would see walking along the road or resting and we would stop by to offer them a warm meal and a brief chat, asking how their week was going and if we could bring anything for them in the coming week.
When I graduated from John Carroll in 2012, leaving my friends from Labre was the hardest part of graduating. I moved to Virginia and felt empty without visiting my homeless brothers and sisters each week. I would often sit in my apartment on Friday evenings and think about where the van would be and who they would be visiting. I prayed for them by name and continue to do so on a regular basis. Although I may not see them any more, my friends will always hold a deep place in my heart from their influence, compassion, and witness of perseverance in the face of difficulty.
Join me in the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Prayer. Let us pray that all individuals without homes may be granted the dignity and worth they are due as children of our great and loving God. Let us pray for all those who are unemployed, underemployed, periodically or permanently homeless. We pray for those unable to afford rent, for children living out of cars, and for all those without access to daily food and water. We also pray for those who live the corporal works of mercy by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and clothing the naked. May their ministry be powerfully blessed.
“Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, you gave up honor, money, and home for love of Jesus. Help us to set our hearts on Jesus and not on the things of this world. You lived in obscurity among the poor in the streets. Enable us to see Jesus in our poor brothers and sisters and not judge by appearances. Make us realize that in helping them we are helping Jesus. Show us how to befriend them and not pass them by.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, you had a great love for prayer. Obtain for us the grace of persevering prayer, especially adoration of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, poor in the eyes of men but rich in the eyes of God, pray for us.”