At noon today, Msgr. Kevin Beach, VG, Father Joseph Muldoon, E.V. and I joined some 350+ members of the greater Ottawa community at the Hellenic [Banquet] Centre for this year's Fifth Annual Hunger Banquet to support the work of the Shepherds of Good Hope in caring for the inner city poor in need of food, shelter and clothing.
Those attending had purchased a table or seat at a table in exchange for a simple meal of hearty chef's stew, assorted rolls, fruit tray, coffee or tea in aid of a good cause: identifying with the poor in whom Christ is present (Fritz Eichenberg's painting "Christ of the Breadline" graced the menu, along with the Shepherds' motto, "Dedicated to Compassion/Devoues a la compassion").
That compassion was very evident in the presentations by Jamie McCracken, head of the Ottawa Catholic School Board and Ottawa Police Services Chief Vern White, as well as in the testimonies given by award winners about the blessings they receive in doing good for others.
Mr. McCracken spoke of the involvement of staff (he is on the Board of Directors), principals, teachers and students with the ministry of the Shepherds of Good Hope and how that has given them a personal experience of striving for justice, an outlet for their faith and love.
Mr. White provocatively challenged the assembly to see that the existence of more beds in more shelters is really a sign of our failure to effect true justice in a city such as Ottawa.
He suggested we need to look at other options and spoke of a recent journey to see how New York City is coping and even moving towards eliminating the problem of homelessness, the true shame of our society. He says he was surprised to learn that NYC with ten times the population of Ottawa actually has fewer homeless(in actual numbers) than Canada's Capital. Quite a challenge before us to give the homeless the dignity of their own home, their own employment, their personal sense of honour!
In the meantime, we strive to relieve the suffering of the marginal and needy with this charter of promoting gospel values:
"Shepherds of Good Hope is a God-centered healing community which welcomes and values people of all faiths and beliefs. In fulfilling our Mission, we support and accept one another with joy, dignity, and respect. Our belief in the power of love and prayer guide all our actions. In providing support, our intent is to ease suffering with gentleness and compassion, to restore dignity, and to connect individuals with a feeling of home inside themselves where they can experience safety, inner peace, and self love." (Mission Statement)