Called to Serve

by Norma Cindy Canedo

When I look back on my plans after graduating college, I always laugh to myself thinking that the Lord had a different path in mind for me; one that I am most grateful for and recognize as an answer to my prayers. I could share many insights as to what I have learned, experienced, and witnessed at St. Matthew’s all these years, spanning from being a child-parishioner to a young adult parishioner and parish staff member.

Three of the greatest gifts that have come from working with the Social Justice & Community Service Ministries are the embodiment of examples of faith, dignity, and love of neighbor. One is having been able to meet and form relationships with the individuals and families we serve through our ministries. In them you encounter the great dignity of their humanity and many exemplary models of a strong faith and trust in the Lord. Likewise, one will see this in the “servers”, the volunteers, those who may be doing well, or maybe not so well, but regardless of their personal situation are still thinking about the welfare of their neighbor.

During this time of crisis, filled with uncertainty and anxiety we have all seen humanity at its best; people desiring to give back by any means possible. Our parish is no different and is successfully attempting to maintain a sense of community, even in this time of social distancing.

Our Homeless Ministry’s Monday Morning Program has also evolved to keep up with this strong desire to maintain community and service alive and active. The ministry had to transform in order to uphold social distancing and CDC regulations. Originally, we planned to say goodbye to our homeless and low-income friends once more by giving out lunches in front of the Cathedral and explaining to those who came by that we could no longer hold the program because we were unable to serve 60 plus people inside the parish conference room.

After that bittersweet morning, we had a few epiphanies. We planned to show up once more the following Monday, in case a few people come by. Since our usual number of guests is so large, we have understood that people choose to come to St. Matthew’s on Mondays and have made their visit for breakfast and scripture study part of their personal routine. While we told people we would no longer stay open, many guests still came by. It was then that staff and parishioners recognized that, as members of the body of Christ, as his Church, we are called to be his hands here on earth. While this time of pandemic is difficult for all of us, one can only imagine how much more challenging it must be for our sisters and brothers without homes.

Those awe-inspiring virtues of faith, dignity, and love of neighbor resurfaced, as they tend to do in our parish community. Parishioners reached out to us asking about the ministry and offered help. While some had to step away and let us know they could not assist due to health or age, their prayers for those we serve and our continuing ministry are gratefully needed and welcomed..

After all, we are called to pray and act and cannot do one without the other.

It was on Monday, March 16th that the Monday Breakfast Ministry became the Sidewalk Ministry. Since then, with Monsignor Jameson’s blessing, we have been setting up our station in front of the Cathedral (sometimes under the garage entrance when it rains) and continue to serve our guests this way. Again, while some parishioners cannot support the ministry as before, they have expressed a great joy in knowing that their parish family continues to serve our homeless friends. Due to their limitations, as an alternative some have donated funds to our parish Emergency Assistance Program, which is also active at this time to help parishioners and others with emergency rent and utility assistance.

A number of new volunteers have reached out as well, along with our many usual Monday volunteers. Parishioners have signed-up to donate lunches or to serve on Mondays. Again, God is good to this unworthy ministry worker. Once, more I get to see firsthand our parish being a place of unity and brotherhood. You see this in their willingness to serve, how they think of the good of the other, over themselves.

The interactions among our guests and volunteers is also a beauty to behold, as again our parish community embraces the call to recognize the dignity of all. Fr. John Benson’s company is also greatly appreciated by  all who are present. One of our friends said it best a couple of Mondays ago, when he joyfully exclaimed “During this time, this is the only Church I get!”

While many doors are closed to the poor, I am most grateful that our parish is continuing to accept the call we find in the Gospel of Matthew by responding with a resounding "Yes, I will!" to Christ’s "Follow me.."

Formerly St. Matthew's Coordinator for Social Justice & Community Services, Norma Canedo, has been a Cathedral parishioner since young childhood, celebrating her sacraments here and even attending her sister's (small) Cathedral wedding during the pandemic! Norma was a valued member of the Cathedral parish staff from 2011 to 2022, where she distinguished herself with a heart for the poor and a willingness to work hard to serve them. She  shared this reflection on her years of serving our parish community, and inviting others to do the same. 

If you are interested in volunteering in the Sidewalk Ministry, we are looking for lunch donors and for servers. Monetary donations are also greatly appreciated for the Homeless Ministry as we will continue distributing clothing, underwear, socks, and toiletries along with the donated lunches. You may also support our Emergency Assistance Program, which helps parish families in need with their outstanding bills. To learn more, contact Ricardo Tobar, Coordinator for Social Justice. You may also contact Fr. John Benson.