Let’s call him J – single in his late-20s, orphaned at an early age. Homeless. Sane. Gelled hair – a little vanity to perhaps keep his self-respect. Baggy in pants and shirts often in dark colors. He is dark-skinned. Rotund-faced and with eyes ready to greet and smile for friends and acquaintances. He is one little “Quasimodo” of the Shrine minus the detestations and the climb to a bell tower (the ancient tolls of church bells nowadays are replaced electronically).
We became friends through solitude. J lives in the churchyard, sleeps in an empty building that buzzes with human activity only every Sunday with retail merchandise. But day in and day out, J hangs out at the Shrine, often stationing himself between the adoration chapel and the Marian Garden, collecting empty tin containers of candles used by Marian devotees and replaces them with new ones. On regular mass days like Sundays and special days, he is easily clouded by mass goers. Insignificant.
But between 8 and 9 in the evening, J, dark-skinned as he is becomes more visible. When the whirls and buzzes at the Shrine settle like dust, when liturgy returns to silence, lights dimmed or shut out, trees more heard in their stillness, J along with the roving security guard and a couple or 3 adorers move with the moving darkness of the night. At times, I would find J cuddling a stray cat, feeding from his meager food. We would converse around solitude and the search for God. He is a good listener, quite attuned to silence’s nuances over our human hunger for love, our loneliness, the joy from our solitariness. He is full of hope, childlike in his trust for daily food he receives from the Shrine, and randomly from friends and parishioners. The generosity of the universe sustains even his hair maintenance need for a gel :-).
Often in deserted places, outside the self-confidence of manicured systems, social conventions and mainstreamed obsession for security, there dwell the poor in spirit, those who claim their powerlessness and insignificance before the vulnerable God. It is a paradox to behold, often a prophetic one even in its obscurity or insignificant number.
He remained in deserted places,
and people kept coming to him from everywhere.