Catholic Street Missionaries delivers socks, scarves, and hope to the poor

As a steady snowfall kept most locals indoors, a team of missionaries plunged into the cold and snow to minister to the homeless.

Six members of the new Catholic Street Missionaries (CSM) team delivered socks, gloves, toques, and jackets to the needy on Vancouver’s streets Feb. 4.

“I was touched by what I saw on the streets,” said volunteer Luc Bengono.

“You can’t leave a person on the pavement when it’s snowing. It’s natural to at least ask him a question: Do you need help?”

He and five fellow volunteers walked around downtown Vancouver, pausing to offer clothing, conversation, and prayer for any homeless, drug-addicted, or prostituted person they encountered.

Although they spent their afternoon with the poor in the cold, Bengono was left with a warm feeling. “We are not aware of the graces we receive on a daily basis. Living in a house, or in an apartment, with heat, eating every day, having clean clothes, having a paycheque, and we complain,” he said.

During their walk, he met a woman from Manitoba who was smiling, despite being on the pavement in the cold and snow. “After that I felt, ‘No, we are not aware of the graces we have. I feel selfish.’”

Fellow volunteer Conrad Mallonga, a member of St. Mary’s Parish, called it an eye-opening experience.

“I didn’t expect it to be so enriching. When you’re trying to help people, you’re just giving out socks and sweaters, but ... in the end I feel good. I feel like I have more purpose.”

CSM foundress Mildred Moy, who only officially launched the ministry a few months ago, says her volunteers “really love the poor. To do that in the snow, it’s not easy.”

Moy, who has spent 15 years in street ministry, said CSM is about far more than socks and scarves.

“There are so many organizations that are tending to their physical needs. Our focus is the emotional and spiritual.”

Her goal for CSM is to train and mobilize full-time missionaries to reach those on the streets and become an “extended family” for those who have no one. That includes encouraging them, praying with them, visiting them in hospital or recovery houses, and offering resources to the poor and pregnant.

Full-time work is crucial to CSM, and some of Moy’s volunteers are discerning whether they could spend a year in full-time street outreach.

“A person with an addiction, when they call you, those are a few seconds of grace that can change their life,” she said. If the person who answers their call can’t talk until the next week, they may miss a window in which they can make a big difference.

The group is also unapologetically Catholic. Before stepping onto the streets, the volunteers take several hours to pray and train with Moy. Prayer and Scripture study are important, said. “We need to be fed first before we go out.”

CSM volunteers offer to pray for those on the streets and even invite those interested in Catholicism to come to church or join RCIA. “We want to bring Jesus into the picture. It’s so important.”

Moy plans to hold another day of training and outreach May 6.