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Experience a Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux

16/06/2009: France

Some years ago I had worked in a shelter in Wheeling, West Virginia and saw the many faces of homelessness. When I arrived at Notre Dame des Sans Abris, I was not surprised at what I saw; homeless has a universal face.

What did surprise me was the number of young men at the shelter. Had I seen some of them on the street I would never have known they were homeless. Some were recent immigrants looking for housing and employment. Others were newly unemployed due to the current economic crisis. Some of these young men were neatly dressed in the current style of their employed peers. My surprise led me to a new realization: the “least favored” have many more faces than I might imagine.

During my evening at the foyer, I worked in the consigne with a young French volunteer named Jerome. For the two hours that the consigne was open on Friday night, the men would come to get clean clothes or other items out of their baggage. For those that were leaving for other parts of France and Europe, we gave them their baggage and signed them out of the foyer.

Looking around the consigne at the stacked baggage of the foyer’s clients, both Jerome and I remarked at the fact that these assorted pieces of luggage held every earthly possession that these men had.

Our evening shift ended with a small social hosted by the other volunteers. What impressed me was the enthusiasm that the volunteers had for their volunteer work at the foyer. Men and women, young and old, working professionals, retired folks – all felt the need to respond to the vision of Gabriel Rosset, a French professor and Catholic layman who, along with several colleagues, founded Le Foyer Notre Dame des Sans-Abri in 1950 as a response to the urgent need for social services in the years after World War II. Rosset’s vision of lived Gospel values in service to the “least favored” among our brothers and sisters is something that all Champagnat Marists can relate to.

Brother Hank Hammer (USA)

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