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The sanctuary of St. Boniface as the tabernacle of the suffering Christ

April 3, 2015
Douglas Pierce

In ancient times, the tabernacle was the tent that housed the divine presence among the Israelites; today the word is used to describe the container that holds the reserved consecrated Eucharist in church.

Everyone in our city knows that several thousand San Franciscans are too poor to have homes – too poor to have anywhere of their own to sleep. And most of us know that there are not even half of the necessary shelter beds available at night. This is the tragedy that anyone can see simply by walking our city streets.

But there is another side to this tragedy that requires faith to grasp: Those who are poor and suffering are the actual body of Christ here in our presence today. Jesus said that how we treat those who are considered “the least” is how we treat him. Paul devoted much effort to raise money for the poor churches even though he thought Christ’s return was just around the corner. Much more recently Mother Teresa called the poor “Christ in his most distressing disguise,” and Pope Francis is asking the church to become, “a church for the poor; a field hospital that focuses on healing wounds.”

St Boniface Church in the Tenderloin created The Gubbio Project 10 years ago by allowing those in need, who were on the steps of the church and already coming in to get warm during the Masses, to simply lie down and rest. If you have ever come to daily Mass at St. Boniface you certainly have noticed that the back two-thirds of the church sanctuary is filled with over 100 women and men who sleep and rest even while Mass is celebrated at the front of the church. The unique thing that happens at Gubbio is that, in the poor, Christ transforms the entire sanctuary into a tabernacle for his presence.

Can you imagine the impact our local Catholic Church would have in our city and beyond if the parishes of San Francisco considered the welcoming of homeless people into the sanctuary of the church to be an important part of our Catholic identity? Christ is already sleeping at the doors and on the front steps of many of our churches – what keeps us from inviting him inside?

This paper hits the pews on Good Friday – a day when it can really be hard to believe Jesus when he said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Whether you are pastor or parishioner, the idea of opening your parish to the poor might seem overwhelming. Let us help. Gubbio stands ready to shoulder the logistical and staffing burden of opening parishes to the poor for “sacred sleep” and we are very much seeking partner churches to do the same as St. Boniface. What we need from you and your parish is the faith to see that Christ is truly present in those who are homeless and the courage to try a model of interaction with homeless folks that may be new to your parish, but is tried and true at St. Boniface.

The problem of homelessness, seen through the eyes of Catholic faith, is that Christ is present and suffering on the doorsteps of our churches and the sidewalks of our city instead of being ministered to inside our churches. Through many and varied social ministries, Catholics of this diocese have a long history of responding generously to the needs of the poor. The unique contribution of The Gubbio Project is to highlight our faith’s teaching that Christ is truly present in the poor and that Christ should be welcomed into our churches even when he appears in his “distressing disguise.” What happens at Gubbio is more than a clever use of space and a compassionate service to our neighbors on the street. At Gubbio, the sanctuary of the church becomes a tabernacle for the real presence of Christ in the poor. And we invite you as Lent comes to a close in 2015, to consider opening the doors of your church to the poor so that Christ may enter and find rest.

Pierce is a member of the board of directors of The Gubbio Project and of St. Agnes Parish.


The Gubbio Project

For more information on, to donate to, or to contact The Gubbio Project:

Call (415) 861-5848

Email gubbio@thegubbioproject.org

Stop by 133 Golden Gate Ave. in San Francisco

Visit www.thegubbioproject.org

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