One of the goals of the Special Laudato Si’ Anniversary Year (May 24, 2020 – May 24, 2021) is a response to the cry of the poor. This includes the defense of human life from conception to death, with special attention to vulnerable groups, such as indigenous communities, migrants, children at risk through slavery, etc. Don Bosco saw the negative effects at the beginning of the industrialization of Turin, where the young were arriving as migrants looking for work. They were being exploited, forced to work long hours in unsafe environments for very low wages. He heard the cry of the poor. The Salesian Family throughout the world continues to be attentive to the plight of the little ones, the migrants and refugees, those on the periphery. In varying ways, the members of our province stretch out their hands to reach the young in economic disadvantage and living in other forms of poverty.
As part of our on-going reflections during this anniversary year of Laudato Si, I asked two Salesians in Orange, NJ how they respond to the cry of the poor. Fr. Fernando Ramirez affirmed that the SDBs at the Parish of Our Lady of the Valley in Orange have been attentive to those in need in this time of the pandemic. He highlighted the spiritual activities, both in-person and live-streamed, that express solidarity with our brothers and sisters who often feel isolated and anxious. They are seeking those who need consoling and encouraging the Word of God, the nourishment of the Eucharist, and the support of the community of faith. They know that the Salesians have been available to listen to them at all times. In English and Spanish, from the Salesian corner of Valley St. and Nassau St., the motto of Don Bosco becomes a lived reality: Give me the souls, take the rest. Many young people come to the Salesians to share their fears and hopes, their dreams, and their frustrations. In their poverty, their cry to the Lord goes up; with the accompaniment of the Salesians and through prayer, they grow in trust in the God of life.
Fr. Miguel Angel Suarez shared some of the ways the Salesian presence in Orange is responding to the physical needs of the people. The parish soup kitchen is open Monday to Friday, from 9 am to noon EST. About 170 take-out meals are being served each week, with the expectation that the number will increase during the winter. An outdoor eating area that complies with pandemic protocol has been set up for those who cannot go to their apartments to eat. Neighboring parishes and other organizations collaborate in the parish soup kitchen and other efforts to help those in need. Donated clothes, especially coats, are made available to those who come to the soup kitchen. A special effort is made to help mothers of small children by giving them disposable diapers. The North Bridge Foundation distributed 1,400 boxes of food in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Valley Parish. Every day, before the meal, one of the Salesians says the blessing and prays with the people. They give thanks to God for what they receive, for the donors and collaborators. Even in this time of the pandemic, they are able to share these blessings from God. Before the pandemic, a barber offered free haircuts. Fr. Miguel is looking into working with another agency to offer addiction counseling. He welcomes donations of food and money so the faith community can continue to respond to the cry of the poor. On Thanksgiving Day (Thursday, November 26), the parish will have three Masses, and the 7 pm Mass in Spanish will be live-streamed.
This Thanksgiving in the USA, besides gathering as confreres for the traditional holiday banquet, let us be sure to pause in quiet prayer, to give thanks to God who always listens to us in our need. And may this moment of silence also make us more like Don Bosco, more responsive to the cry of the poor.
United in Christ,
Fr. Tim Zak, SDB