A parish Thanksgiving with the homeless

A parish Thanksgiving with the homeless
Father Vincent Guest, pastor of the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton, is pictured with parish staff and Code Blue volunteers. Code Blue, which the parish was a part of, is a local outreach to the homeless.

Father Vincent Guest, pastor of the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton, is pictured with parish staff and Code Blue volunteers. Code Blue, which the parish was a part of, is a local outreach to the homeless.

The Gospel reading on the feast of Christ the King was the famous parable of the last judgment from Matthew 25, with its challenging words: “Did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome the stranger?”

That Gospel came alive for the parishioners of the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton last week as the parish opened its doors for the homeless.

Along with several area churches Holy Cross is participating in Operation Code Blue in Bridgeton. Last year a homeless man died while seeking shelter in a Salvation Army clothing bin. With the nearest homeless shelter in Cumberland County miles away, Mayor Albert Kelly and area churches responded by establishing warming centers to house the homeless when temperatures drop to a dangerous level.

“It was our turn during Thanksgiving week and that was a great week to allow the words of Matthew’s Gospel to come alive,” explained Father Guest, pastor of Holy Cross.

The city called a Code Blue on Wednesday evening into Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. The parish utilizes the basement of St. Teresa of Avila Church. Doors open at 6 p.m. and a warm meal is served by volunteers. Twenty-five cots are lined up with fresh linens and blankets.

Father Guest stated that state regulations mandate that the homeless seeking shelter leave the warming center by 6 a.m. At that time coffee and a light breakfast is served.

Parishioners have responded generously, the pastor said. Every day there are hats and gloves and blankets being dropped off in the parish’s churches and office. More than 60 parishioners have signed up to cook meals or take turns on overnight shifts.

Parishioner and Pastoral Council Chair Bill Whelan was touched by the gratitude of the homeless.

“Here was Thanksgiving morning and these men were waking up in a temporary shelter,” explained Whelan, “but the first words out of their mouths were Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for allowing us to stay the night. It made my Thanksgiving meal with my family later that day that much more meaningful.”

“I love the pope’s image of the church as a ‘field hospital,’” noted Father Guest, “and the warming center is our emergency room.”

On Thanksgiving the Gospel of Joy was alive at Holy Cross in Bridgeton, he added.

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