Not for the poor, but with the poor

In one Zurich parish living the Word of God has encouraged many people to reach out to the poor.

Parish priest Martin Piller recounts: “I had often spoken to the parish council about the poor people that knock at the door of the priest house, asking for money. Thinking of Jesus who identifies himself with such as these, helped me to care for them in their need. My collaborators and I asked ourselves what we might do to improve their situations.”

Mark Etter from the pastoral team: “We read a text by Chiara Lubich: ‘If you want to win over a city to the love of God, if you want to transform a town into the kingdom of God, first make your plans. Gather round you friends who share your feelings. Unite yourself with them in the name of Jesus (. . .) Make a pact of mutual love with them. Then look for the poorest. Having consoled, helped, enlightened, made happy those who were the dregs of society, you have laid the foundations to build a new city.’”

Piller: “Jesus was clearly speaking to us through these words: the poor are our treasure. And so we sought out a few people who were sensitive to the poor, and shared with them our desire to work together for two hours each week, for the poor“

Etter: “The beginning was anything but professional. Work tools may have been lacking, but there was no lack of ideas. Someone suggested working together with them at repairing the tables in the parish garden, and then paying them for their work. Another person then suggested breaking some empty bottles and using the pieces of glass to sand away the old varnish from the table tops. And so we did, but the next time someone brought along some sandpaper.”

Piller: “Four years have gone by now. Today some forty people of all ages and backgrounds have joined in working with us for two hours every week. There are teenagers, retired people, parents, drug addicts and homeless people. Everything has grown. A pastry shop donates sandwiches and sweet breads for our coffee break. In the church bell tower we’ve set up a candle-making shop and in the parish centre a workshop for making other objects. We are now financially supported by an Economy of Communion business. We’ve begun a constructive relationship with the city’s social workers. They visit us often and have shown very positive interest in our work.”

Etter: “There were many times when we knew that the cash box was empty, even though many people would be coming, expecting to be paid. I well remember that night when we knelt together in church asking for the light to go on. The next day someone dropped an envelope at the priest house with a huge sum of money inside. It seemed to be God’s answer to our faith in his Word: ‘Ask and you shall receive.’”

Piller: “Marco, one of the people who came regularly, died suddenly from a drug overdose. Since his parents wanted to have a private funeral ceremony, we went into the chapel and, following a song, we were quite moved to see how everyone spontaneously turned to God.”

“We continually try to put ourselves in the shoes of the needy and we are always enriched. A few weeks ago we gathered some money for the daughter of one of the workers, who is sick in Africa. It was a great surprise to us when saw everyone’s willingness to give all that they had earned that day for her.”