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JAMAICA PLAIN -- Before making their typical Saturday rounds, the Capuchin Mobile Ministries received a special visitor on March 27: Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley came by to bless their specially designed van, which they use to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the homeless in Boston and Cambridge.
Since August, the Capuchin friars and volunteers have taken the van out one or two days each week, working in four- to five-hour shifts. They make stops at locations throughout downtown Boston and downtown Cambridge, where the homeless congregate.
The van acts as a mobile serving station, allowing the Capuchins and volunteers to offer food, water, coffee and hot chocolate to the hungry. They also give out tote bags with amenities, such as winter clothes, hand warmers, and foil thermal blankets, as well as religious articles, like rosaries, scapulars, medals, and oils.
But they do more than just meet physical needs: they listen to people's stories, pray with them, and give them information about spiritual resources and social services. They also record the names of the people they meet in a prayer ledger, so all the Capuchins can pray for them. The tote bags contain bracelets with contact information so the homeless can reach out to the chaplain on call.
Leading the Mobile Ministries are Brother Anthony Zuba, who has served in apostolates to the homeless in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and Brother Paul Fesefeldt, who has served the homeless for 20 years.
Speaking to The Pilot on March 29, Brother Anthony said they thought it "appropriate and fraternal" for the cardinal to visit and offer a blessing.
"Cardinal Sean is not only our bishop but, for us Capuchins, he is our brother," Brother Anthony said.
He said the visit gave them "the feeling that the Church is with us, that the Church in Boston is with us in our work."
"This is not only a ministry of the Capuchin Franciscans, but this is a ministry of the Catholic Church in Boston," Brother Anthony said, pointing out that their volunteers come from parishes, Catholic high schools, and religious communities in the archdiocese.
"We felt it was fitting and proper that Cardinal Sean would visit us to join us in a moment of prayer for the volunteers and to give a blessing to the vehicle that allows us to be Church on the margins, to go out and to meet our friends on the street who are homeless and hungry," he said.
The idea for the Capuchin Mobile Ministries originated as the Province of St. Mary began exploring how the friars might "minister visibly and collaboratively" to the needy outside of a parish setting. In Denver, the Capuchin Province of St. Conrad had deployed a food truck to feed the hungry in the streets. In 2019, the Province of St. Mary, which includes New York and New England, announced that it would begin a similar ministry.
The launch was delayed due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, but they were able to begin in August 2020. The province purchased a van, and the friars customized it with cabinets for their supplies. They started out with weekly outreach trips on Saturdays and, in November, added Wednesday trips as well.
Brother Anthony said it has been "a grace and a blessing" to do this work during the pandemic.
"We feel it's really important to reduce the spiritual distance between the Church and the homeless, even while physical distancing has been necessary," he said.
The volunteers wear masks and sterile gloves while serving food and drinks. They also offer masks to the people they meet, and keep a supply of hand sanitizer in the van and at the serving station.
Brother Anthony said they feel proud that they have been able to reach out to the homeless, especially during the pandemic.
"We applaud our generous and courageous volunteers for joining us in the van and we also express our gratitude to the other volunteers who have helped us in more contactless ways, such as making sandwiches or purchasing emergency supplies for us," Brother Anthony said.
Looking to the future, they plan to organize field trips for Catholic high school students and hope to conduct a speaking tour at parishes throughout the archdiocese to form a volunteer base in cooperation with parish social ministries.
Information about the Capuchin Mobile Ministries is available at www.capuchin.org/mobile-ministries. Those interested in volunteering, making donations, or receiving assistance can call (617) 413-9239 or email email@example.com.