When someone travels abroad and contacts with different cultures, on their return to the country of origin, they often hear the question: “So, how was the food there?” We too are often asked: “How’s everything going? Are you getting accustomed to our food?” This time we decided to write a post entirely dedicated to answering these questions. A post entirely dedicated to suggesting the best tables in Toronto, our first stop in Canada.
Every Sunday, from November to March, in the late afternoon, the doors of one of the halls of St. Patrick’s parish in Toronto open to welcome dinner guests. The meal preparations begin early in the morning catered by a team of cooks who volunteer for this task. At 4 pm the doors are opened and everything is ready. Tables set, hot meals ready to be served and there’s also someone playing the piano to help create a homely background. This is a self-service dinner and the meal consists of meat soup – or a vegetarian one -, the main course – also with a vegetarian option – and dessert – fruit, cakes or some other pastry options. To go with it there are hot drinks and bread, with or without butter. There are many options in the menu. And several guests show their gratitude openly. Pleased comments abound: “The soup is really good! Can I have another bowl?” Of course, they can; soup is more than enough for everyone.
A large team of waiters is positioned around the space: serving, picking up and washing the dishes; ensuring that the service is rendered in the best possible way. Some of our confreres also walk around, greeting and welcoming the guests, with a friendliness we are more and more sure that is our distinguishing feature.
This dinner, which takes place every week, is special. When we see the guests coming in, at first sight, they resemble pilgrims, with a backpack on their backs and the few goods they have appended to them. They are not always very clean or tidy, and some are not even able to smile. Some are homeless people and others are going through situations of dire financial stress. And this is the dinner that a large team of “waiters”, or volunteers, serves every week. They call it “Out of the Cold”, because, in actual fact, outside, it is very cold. They serve it for free to about 200 “guests”. That’s exactly what they are for the team behind the organization: guests.
In this “restaurant” there is also a team of nurses available and ready to help and heal some of the wounds, even those that actually shed blood. They also offer personal hygiene products and warm clothes for the cold outside. During the night, this “restaurant” can work as an “hotel” for some of them. At the end of dinner, 80 mattresses are provided for those who need to stay overnight, and in the morning, breakfast is served. Everyone is welcome here. Especially those who bring different sorts of hunger.
But the truth is that in Toronto we experimented more tables, which we can also recommend. Different from this one, but just as welcoming. One of them was the delicious table we had at Barbara’s, a Redemptorist Lay Associate. That was a table set up by many hands: every one brought something to share and, in no time, the room shaped up and the conversations began to unfold. There were plenty of us. Several confreres and several members of the Redemptorist Lay Associates circle. But despite our numbers, no one felt in a crowd. The atmosphere was so familiar… In the end they surprised us with a dedication on a cake! The truth is that the details count a lot and a detail like this one made us feel even more at home. In the end we even took a family photo with our confrere John’s cell phone and no one was left out, thanks to the timer and a Kleenex box that helped to hold the cell phone in the perfect position!
All of this worked as a kind of warm-up session for the Redemptorist Lay Associates circle meeting that was held on a Saturday morning. In the living room of the religious community, we had this wonderful conversation for more than an hour, having as a backdrop a chapter in Afonso’s biography, written by Frederick M. Jones. We went from Toronto to Naples, from Naples to Scala and from Scala back to Toronto again. We went and drank from the origins of our Congregation, from Afonso’s relationship with Maria Celeste Crostarosa and from the influence and key role this woman played in our birth. A rich source from which we can still drink today; in Toronto and many other places, helping us to grow as a missionary family.
Tables! Yes, there is more! In our parish here in Toronto, Wednesdays are dedicated to the novena to the Mother of Perpetual Help and once a month, after the 12 o’clock celebration, there is an “Open Door”: meaning everyone is invited for a lunch! The invitation is usually accepted by people who feel lonely and, therefore, profit from a lunch like this to chat and socialize. The care is excellent: flowers on the tables, warm soup, some cakes and pastries at the end… Everything prepared by volunteers belonging to the parish community that meets here. Lovely!
Finally, another table that we cannot fail to recommend is the table of the religious community. A large table to welcome everyone around the same conversation. Fraternity and, above all, good mood! The jokes seasoned the meals and, with two Portuguese people used to the mild climate, traveling through Canada in the middle of winter, causes for laughing were easy to find. Our confrere Joseph Ruta gave the cues and even Siri (Apple’s virtual assistant) entered the game. “Siri, what is the temperature in Newfoundland?” – asked confrere Santo. The -15ºC response, added to our shocked faces, made everyone have a good laugh!
We’ll see you around,
Zé ku Teresa