In downtown Detroit, the Pope Francis Center works to uphold the dignity of people in the city who are experiencing homelessness. What started as a small ministry of the Church has grown into a ministry that many guests describe as the place they feel most safe.
Fr. Tim McCabe, Executive Director, Pope Francis Center: So we have a bike clinic here and we have a guy that comes down and teaches our guests how to repair bikes and take care of their own. And so we had one of our guests, his name was Vic. He started coming around and helping with the bicycle clinic and repairing bicycles. And some time ago he was hit by a car and ended up dying from his injuries. And the only information he had on him was the name of the guy that ran the bicycle clinic.
We were struggling to try to find any family members that Vic may have had and they did a lot of extensive research, but they could never locate any family members. And oftentimes what will happen then is they'll just do a cremation. So we, recognizing the sanctity and dignity of all human life, decided that we would start to work to have those bodies released to us, offer a proper funeral and burial for them.
We gathered in our church and we offered Vic a funeral among his small group of friends. There was a PBJ ministry, a peanut butter and jelly ministry that was happening he became involved in and was helping out with. So his friends from that group came. We had a nice, beautiful sendoff and we were able to pray with him and for him and grieve the loss of this kind of gentle little soul.
Works of Mercy Come to Life at Detroit’s Pope Francis Center
Fr. Tim McCabe: The Pope Francis Center has been around for 30 years now. And it started off as a small ministry of the church. And then around 2013, we got a substantial gift from the UAW Ford Fund. So we were able to begin to really start to address issues that the homeless were facing and to kind of serve in a way that previously hadn't been able to.
Harrison Plaskey, Program Director: We offer a lot of services here. Number one thing we always offer is a nutritious meal. We have laundry services, we have showers. Our front office provides hygiene, clothing, and it's just a little corner store, but everything's free. We offer a lot of clinics from medical clinics through covenant healthcare, Detroit street medicine, legal clinics from all kinds of law firms. Dental clinics.
Dr. Asha Shajahan, Primary Care Volunteer: So I do a lot of homeless street outreach and I work with many organizations. And, consistently, when I am out on the street talking to homeless clients, they will always say Pope Francis Center is where they feel the most safe.
Client 1: Okay. Thank you.
Volunteer 1: Have a great day.
Client 2: Yes sir.
Samuel Louis, Client: Well, my name's Samuel D. Louis. Born in Detroit. Became homeless after being incarcerated, doing 20 years. I've been given housing from different agencies. And just recently I had a house fire. I Just recently had a house fire. The building was caught on fire. My family kind of fell apart. My fiance, she's struggling. She's still struggling through some stuff.
And they've been here to hear me out. Hear my hurt. I mean, we lost our family. It fell apart because of homelessness and other struggles that come along with this. I mean, I'm glad they're here to be honest with you. I truly am. I got so many things going on. I I got an application for an apartment down here, so I'm going to fill this application out and pray that it's just now it's up to me to take the necessary steps and to gain that blessing that was given to me.
If I don't take these steps from this blessing that God gave me, and try to do something with it, then I'm throwing it back in his face. And that ain't how I do it.
Fr. Tim McCabe: The folks that I know that are on the streets have become friends of mine. And I care for them and they care for me. And they teach me often about gratitude and about spirituality. They can come in after a long night of rain and be soaking wet and be grateful for the cup of coffee and the food that they are given. And if I ask them how they're doing, they'll say, "I'm blessed, I'm blessed." And they mean that. They know the source of their lives. They know that their dependence on God.
Client 3: Pop Tarts.
Volunteer 2: Pop tarts?
Client 3: Pop Tarts. Yeah.
Volunteer 2: There we go. Pop tarts. You want me to see if I got Pop Tarts? I'll go see if I got one.
Client 3: It's good for you.
Volunteer 2: I don't know if it's good for you. It's not that good for you.
Fr. Tim McCabe: Right after I got here, I was trying to find a name that represented all the things that we do. And at that point, Pope Francis had just put in showers in the Vatican for the homeless. I'm like, who better to represent what we're trying to do in all of his attention to the poor and to the marginalized and caring for them? It would just make perfect sense to rename it in his name.
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Detroit Catholic video documentary by Andrew Kleczek