Reflection by a Staff Member - Ode to a Mentor

by Lisa Roncella - Hospitality Monitor

About nine years ago, I met one of the most beautiful people I know, Michael.  I met Michael while doing laundry on the corner of 24th and Florida.  I don’t know what Michael saw in me, I was a walking train wreck, but one day he invited me to coffee.  Over many weeks that turned into years, Michael and I got to know each other. He would share his spiritual journey and insights.  He was so deep that I would be left lost as the beauty of his thoughts and insights bathed me in wonder.  Sometimes as desperate as I was to catch a drop of that beauty, I would just tell him my mind is too damaged by drugs to follow.

He witnessed my endless tears with love and compassion.  I shared my love of the Prayer of St. Michael the archangel, which begins “Defend us in battle…”  I knew I was either dancing or battling with my demons.  Michael was a physical manifestation of St. Michael in my mind.  Whenever I asked a question that had no simple answer, Michael would say "Who knows?" Then he would take a long pause, and answer "God Knows" Over time I learned to respond, "God Knows."

I remember the day I shared with Michael the fact I had sideswiped a big rig on the freeway in the East Bay while under the influence of psychiatric meds, ending up passed out in the center median of the freeway; never mind, the fact that I didn’t end up with a DUI.  I woke up the next morning in the emergency room amazed and deeply grateful that I hadn’t killed myself or someone  else.

Sharing my amazement with Michael, he said, “Grace” as in Amazing Grace.  In that moment, I was rendered speechless as I sat in humble awe before Michael.  All braggadocio vanished.

The other day while wandering down 24th Street, Michael and I once again crossed paths. He grabbed me in a deep soul shattering Gubbio hug.  I haven’t seen Michael in well over a year. I happily shared that I had been working at The Gubbio Project for almost a year.  And once again, Michael left me speechless.  He told me he use to sleep at Gubbio in the pews of St. Boniface church.

I knew Michael was a former university professor, who lost everything with a crack pipe in his hands.  But the Michael I know bears no resemblance to the stereotypical image so many of us hold of a crack addict.  I never knew that Michael.  The man I know fills my heart with wonder and joy and a belief that the most hopeless among us can find redemption and healing, myself included.

Michael, I love you for bearing witness to my journey and sharing yours with me.  Be Blessed Always.

From the Director: The Movement from Hostility to Hospitality

I am grateful to Fr. Richard, the St. John the Evangelist vicar, for sharing this Henri Nouwen reflection from Reaching Out. Henri Nouwen, who was a Dutch Catholic priest, writer and theologian, perfectly describes in this excerpt the hospitality that we offer at Gubbio.  

In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found. Although many, we might even say most, strangers in this world become easily the victim of a fearful hostility, it is possible for men and women and obligatory for (Gubbio) to offer an open and hospitable space where strangers can cast off their strangeness and become our fellow human beings. The movement from hostility to hospitality is hard and full of difficulties. Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. But still—that is our vocation: to convert the hostis into a hospes, the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.

Nouwen continues:

Hospitality, therefore, means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opening of an opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.

Defining Gubbio

The Gubbio Project is a thousand strong. We are the 200+ people who come seeking rest and shelter each weekday on the hard pews in the beautiful, dry, safe, and warm-ish sanctuary of St. Boniface Church and St. John the Evangelist. We are the 100 more who daily come to use the clean and drug-free bathrooms, to get a razor, toothbrush, or a blanket, or to find out where they can store their stuff or get a shower. We are the 12 staff members who hold the sacred space in the church, keep it clean, outreach to the community, and share our vision of a church that is radically inclusive and walks with those who are down-trodden.

We are the 70+ volunteers who come every month to share a meal they have prepared, to assemble toiletry kits, to buy the cleaning supplies, to provide a listening ear to those in the community who are in need. We are the 11 Board members who gather monthly to reflect on what it might mean for church to be sanctuary, to figure out how to embody the belief that there is that of the divine in each person, and to strategize how to pay the bills and continue the work. We are all those who hold this Project in their hearts and pray for us. We are the thousand men, women, and children who have donated supplies and finances to the Project this past year. We are the parishioners from the 5 Catholic churches (and the students from the parish schools) that collected toiletries during Lent. We are the parishioners from the 6 churches that opened their doors to have Gubbio staff share at their masses, and their wallets to share what the Spirit lead them to give. We are the people in the church in Los Angeles who collected money for 35 sleeping bags because a teen there gave his away to someone in need. We are the people who read the Chronicle article, were moved by the story, and wanted to be part of providing "sacred sleep" for our unhoused neighbors.

We are the people in our partnering organizations who go out of their way to make the cafeteria available for breakfasts, who respond to our security needs free of cost, who share their worship space with us.

It is not the case of "we could not have done it without you" but more "we are doing this work - all of us." Each person who donates a pair of socks, brings OJ to the Friday morning breakfast, sleeps on the pew, or donates $2 makes the Project what it is. You, who are reading this newsletter, have, and are now participating in the work of keeping the doors of the church open, of walking with our brothers and sisters without homes, of declaring that yes, to be a sanctuary for those on the margins is a good and right use of church space.