Helpful hearts in Little Italy

A great saint and mystic once said that if the only prayer we said was “Thank You,” it would be enough. Since most of us are still “saints in training,” it’s OK for us to ask for things in prayer. But while we ask for what we want, we must never forget to constantly say thanks for all that we have and all that we are. Life is all a gift. None of us created ourselves.

Interestingly, this year, we celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving leading into the weekend when we begin the season of Advent. What a wonderful combination – giving thanks for all that has come to us, and giving thanks to the God who is coming to us!

At the heart of every celebration and every season – at the heart of every day – is the Eucharist, a word that means “giving thanks.” Not coincidentally, as we celebrate the God who daily feeds us with himself, we also find ourselves feeding others. I’m thinking here not just of family feasts, but of the many outreaches to the poor, especially the year-round feeding in such places as Our Daily Bread and Beans and Bread.

Perhaps less well known is a wonderful little group called “Little Italy Hands and Hearts,” founded back in 2007 at St. Leo Parish and continued by Pallotine Father Salvatore Furnari, pastor. The outreach’s aim was to harness the energy of the younger members of the parish, and to live out Christ’s command to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

They have succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. They have served more than 12,500 meals to the homeless. Working with the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa’s order), they have served 2,000 meals to HIV/AIDS patients. They have helped local veterans and funded summer camps for local youth.

The restaurants which contribute to this outreach are a “Who’s Who” of Little Italy: LaScala Ristorante, Amicci’s, Caesar’s Den, Chiapparelli’s, Dalesio’s, Da Mimmo, Rocco’s Capriccio, Kali’s Court, Pastore’s Wholesale Grocers and Sabatino’s.

While the ages of those involved in the ministry range from 7 to 70, the largest numbers are of people between 30-40. This is precisely the age group often missing from our church attendance. How wonderful to see that when we offer a vision of service, people respond.

Maria Serafini, the president, sums it up best: “I personally feel the success of the ministry is attributed to three characteristics: Synergy, charity and the power of the Holy Spirit working through us.”

So often we look to God to answer our prayers. We often forget that God uses us to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. While we still pray to God “out there,” we also need to remember that at our deepest level, God is in us, living in us and working through us. As St. Paul said so well in summing up our Christian identity, “It is now no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Beyond all the numbers, Maria states an important awareness: “I feel our greatest success has been in changing the consciousness of people and their awareness of hunger in the local community.” She cited examples of a man donating food left over from a Super Bowl party, and someone else donating food from a Preakness party, and local schools donating food left over from fundraisers.

I tell the story of this group to remind us of the countless people doing countless good things in every parish and in every area. I stopped watching the news years ago, because the news is always the bad news. But the word Gospel means “good news.” And those who live the Gospel don’t just bring good news – they are good news.

There is so much for us to be thankful for. And as we await another celebration of God coming to birth in human history, how wonderful that we can celebrate God’s daily coming to birth in us. How could we ever express enough gratitude to a God who didn’t just come to us, but who would become us.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.