Thanksgiving Day this year marked six months since I arrived as Executive Director here at the Franciscan Center.  During my holiday with food and friends, my heart was filled with gratitude for the good work I have been entrusted to carry on at 101 West 23rd Street.

The Center’s Thanksgiving dinner was served on Tuesday, November 23rd, to over 500 men, women and children in poverty; poverty has taken on a new and more desperate look in recent times.  Because of the ongoing recession, our programs have been pushed to the brink as never before.  There are days when our lunch line stretches for a block and the count approaches 600 meals; our food pantry distributes more Federal Emergency Assistance Food than any other pantry in the State.

Our social workers, many helping as volunteers or working virtually for free, see as many as 70 clients a day.  Clients come to us for assistance with critical needs such as keeping the heat and the lights on, preventing an eviction or getting a prescription filled. In addition our clients seek our help in mining jobs, obtaining appropriate clothing, building resumes and learning needed computer skills. More importantly, our clients seek out the Franciscan Center because “you treat people with dignity.”

Dignity is constitutive to the mission and spirit of our work.  Treating people as children of God – with a right to hope and live and love as any other person – that, I believe is foundational to being a Franciscan ministry.

Perhaps that is why St. Francis and the coming feast of the Nativity are so intimately linked.  Christmas is the time when we remember the child Jesus, born of Mary, in Bethlehem of Judea; in a stable because there was no room for him at the inn.  He was born in poverty, born in crisis, and laid to rest in a manger, while shepherds and Magi came in wonder and adoration to see the newborn king – an impoverished king.  This beautifully familiar scene is best portrayed to us through the Christmas crèche, made popular by St. Francis and still a sign and symbol of hope amidst despair today.

So familiar is this scene of the nativity that sometimes the deeper symbols and hidden truths are lost.  The connection of Jesus’ birth with feeding the hungry, for example, is deeply woven into the story of His birth.  “Bethlehem” is translated from Hebrew as “House of Bread” and the infant Jesus is laid to rest in a manger – a feeding trough.  From his birth the King of kings is given to nourish all the world and feed our deepest hungers.    What a great reality, God’s love is food and drink for us.  It is Eucharistic, and we are deeply blessed to have such a nourishing and sustaining God.  Moreover, God knows we are all hungry for love, for hope, for respect.  No one, rich or poor, old or young, black or white, is free from hunger in body, mind and spirit.  We are all dependent on the nourishment given us by our parents, our families, our friends and our God.

Here at the Franciscan Center we respond daily to human hunger.  We feed the poor in body and nourish them with hope and respect.  As you read this year’s Christmas newsletter please take note of our efforts to feed the poor in so many important ways.  Please remember to give generously to our work.  Please respond to our need so that we can respond to the needs of the poor and together we can feed and nourish Baltimore City.  Merry Christmas!