Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Speaking of the poor

South Lake Tahoe is a much poorer community than you might think. The local economy is centered on the casinos; whether you have a job for the summer or not depends on how many tourists show up. The people who live here full time tend to be retirees or service industry workers - hotels, resturaunts, taverns, etc. I went to lunch with the parish bookkeeper the other day and she said that many people think of South Lake Tahoe as a plum assignment but it can actually be a very difficult post. To give you an example of what I mean, every Sunday during his homily Father Ron always asks, "How many of you are visitors today?" It's 75-80% of the congregation, every time. What this means is it can be difficult organizing parish events. We are currently putting together a youth backpacking trip for the end of this month. At the end of every Mass I hand out sign up sheets to people on their way out. The most common thing I hear is, "Sorry but I'm only visiting and I won't be here then," or "Sorry but I have to work those days." Nonetheless, I've really enjoyed meeting people from literally all over the world. Yesterday after Mass a visitor from Bakersfield stayed with us to say the Rosary. He's going through RCIA in the fall and he'll be the class of 2010 (class of 2005 representin' here!)

Father John Grace, one of the pastors emiritus, is a living legend around here. He practically built everything here from scratch. While he was pastor, he did everything: mowed the lawn, repaired the heating system, did mason work whenever bricks started to crumble, etc. Next door to the rectory is Grace Hall, named for Father Grace. In the foyer is Father Grace's Wall of Fame with two dozen civic and ecclesial awards for outstanding service to the local community and the Church. This is where the Bread and Broth ministry operates - it's essentially a soup kitchen. Every Monday they serve hot meals for the poor. Every Friday someone in the pantry hands out canned goods to anyone who shows up who is in need. One of the volunteers, Bill, told me it's a very popular stop for Tahoe's needy because they don't ask a lot of questions; only things like, "Do you have any food allergies?" or "Do you have a stove or microwave or any way of cooking?" Some people who come only have a bicycle and the clothes on their back.

On Monday of this week I took our Blessed Lord to old folks in the nursing home attached to the local hospital. Everyone there knows I'm a seminarian, and the first time I went over there to meet everyone I was in jeans and a polo shirt, but everyone still calls me "Father" despite my protestations that I'm not a priest yet. I hope that's a good sign :p But I'd have to say visiting them was my favorite experience up here so far. One lady, Flo, is blind. One of her favorite activities is listening to someone read the Bible. I wish I could have stuck around longer so I could have done that with her. Pete was in tears when I placed the Blessed Sacrament upon his tongue and afterward asked me to pray for his daughter who was diagnosed with cancer.

As Colin said below, being here reminds me of how blessed and privileged I am. And it's been very edifying to see people in the most trying circumstances still on fire for the faith. I hope and pray that I am able to do well by them and by God who has given me so much.

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