(from C.Ss.R. Around the World blog)
Once upon a time there was a house. Seen from the outside it looked quite ordinary. Built like many others, with windows, doors and solid walls to shelter anyone inside from the wind and cold. Once upon a time there was a house in Winnipeg, Canada.
This house was dreamed of by a group of religious and lay Redemptorists from the Yorkton Region. It began to be dreamed of as a place of community life, a house open to the challenges and sufferings of the world. Not as a summer house where a few would get together to do volunteer work, but a house with a permanent life. A house where life could permanently get in with its many faces, many names and many stories. The encounter between the dream and the house happened more than 25 years ago and since then it is bearing fruit.
This house is very similar to other houses. It has a living room, kitchen and bedrooms. Some people live there permanently: our confreres Larry, Edward and Gabriel. Liz and Delores. We, too, lived there for three weeks. Plus Mary, Marian, Mike, Bonnie, David, Mene, Christopher, Maxine, Lesia, Maryann and a handful of names that wouldn’t fit here. Because this house, despite looking like the others, has a big difference: it is a home. A home with open doors and special foundations: Community and Mission.
Here, every week, there are cooking classes for women and young people, nights with entertaining programs addressed to adults, mornings of faith formation, support and follow-up meetings in the difficult process of quitting different addictions, help with food and basic goods for families and people who are experiencing financial difficulties and a complete daily schedule of open doors. To all. To all who find a home here. This is a family home.
Because it is a family home, every Thursday there is Family Night. By 4:30 pm people begin to show up. And those who arrive are family! All the names already said and those left unsaid. Everyone is part of this home. Everyone is part of the family. History, culture, weaknesses or strengths do not matter. Not even the reasons. This home does not ask for the reasons. This home welcomes. And in this home, Thursday is the day when everyone gets together. All of those, who, for whatever reason, have been in the house on the other days of the week, gather together on Thursdays.
The first hour is spent having coffee and catching up. Talking about the cold outside or how climate change has also brought about fluctuations in temperatures, making winters less severe (note: in Winnipeg, “less severe winters” means that not every day will be -30ºC!) In the kitchen, a permanent team of volunteers makes sure the service is flawless. “Is there still coffee in the coffee pot? We have more washed cups here!”
After the heat has spread, we move on to the next room, where the prayer space is prepared so that the hour before vespers can be used as praise and offerings of our sorrows, troubles and weaknesses. Everyone is present, even those who have missed one of the other nights. And the body also gets ready to prayer. We stand facing East, then South, West and finally North. To ensure nobody forgets that he is part of a bigger world, “with four corners”, each corner represented by a color: black, white, red and yellow, standing for all cultures and colours of skin.
In the end it is time to place another table. Volunteers come forward and in ten minutes chairs are removed, tables are set up and plates are placed. Dinner is ready. Every week it is prepared voluntarily by different parishes in the neighborhood. Everyone collaborates and nobody gets tired. The hunger of some is great. Or the rush. But everything finds its balance, eventually. We were in three Family Nights and in all of them the dinner was delicious and the dessert … let’s call it festive! Every end of the month, Happy birthday to you is sung to those who have celebrated their birthdays in the previous weeks. And, already with a full belly, we realize that there are always twelve baskets left. Twelve baskets is the same to say that there will certainly be at least one more meal for many.
Then everyone begins to put on their coats and start saying goodbye. Dry and tidy dishes. Kitchen as new. Dry hands and bag in hand. For Delores and Father Larry the night is not over yet. It’s time to pick up the vans and drive the family back home. In small groups of 5 or 7 they leave. And silence begins to take over the house.
Tomorrow is another day and the doors will remain open.
In a week, everything and everyone will come together again.
This is the story of a house.
Anyone who looks at it, from the outside, thinks it is a house like all the others.
But it is not.
Once upon a time there was a home.
Its name is Welcome Home.
This is the Church we believe in.
A Church called Welcome Home.
We’ll see you around,
Teresa Ascensão & José Silva Oliveira
Lay Missionaries of the Most Holy Redeemer
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