“I understand those whom the world regards as misfits, vagabonds, good-for-nothings because that was me. But what I experienced in my homeless years, the years that took me off the path with Jesus — for whom I was passionate even at three, four, five years old — is now the cause of my compassion. The sacred compassion of Jesus for our sons and daughters impels us to seek and embrace them: homeless and drowning in pain in a sea of drugs; looking for meaning in the darkness with strangers; suffocating in loneliness; hoping beyond hope that there is a reason to keep on living.
“During those years, far from my Father’s house, in the insanity of self-destructive behaviour, imprisoned by profound depression, haunted by the demons that taunted me with repeated lies that it was easier just to die, I teetered precariously on the precipice of the abyss. How many times I was tempted to let myself fall because the effort to continue exhausted me; how vigourous and unrelenting the efforts of the enemies of my soul to drag me down into the pit. I was a misfit soul, a pitiful vagabond, a homeless stranger in this world.”
When I was ordained in 1985, I received a card from a parishioner which read, “Your ordination to the diaconate has profound theological implications.” As I opened the card my exuberance was somewhat dampened as I read, “It proves that God has a sense of humour.”
My first encounter with Sr. Immolatia of the Fraternity of Poor of Jesus Christ gave further credence to this thesis.
I received an email five months ago from someone who was married to someone who knew someone who knew me. He simply asked if I would meet with a nun who belongs to a recently formed mendicant, contemplative religious community in Brazil. She had come to Waterloo, Ont., to work with people on the street, those in prison and those trapped in the evil of human trafficking.
After checking that there was not actually a place called Brazil somewhere in Canada, I concluded that clearly the good sister had not checked the winter temperature in Ontario, which contrasts somewhat unfavourably with that of Brazil.
We met at her Mission House in Waterloo. It is difficult to express the sense of profound presence that I felt while listening to Sr. Immolatia talk of her life’s journey, and the total peace and trust that she had found in community life. Not just in her personal life’s journey, but in venturing into Canada to plant a new missionary seed for her community.
I was accompanied by Tracey Ferguson, “St. Paul of George Street,” whom I wrote about in a previous column. She shared with Sr. Immolatia her rise from the streets of Toronto to live a new life in Christ.
Here’s how Sr. Immolatia described her in the community newsletter: “Deacon Kinghorn came to our mission bearing a letter. At least, this is the image I have of his visit with a very special person who accompanied him. Deacon Robert delivered a letter from Christ written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on the tablet of a human heart (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). The letter’s name is Tracey Ferguson. She is living proof of God’s mercy, the transforming power of His grace.”
Sr. Immolatia has since been joined in Waterloo by two other sisters of the Fraternity, who had previously ministered in the favelas of Brazil, living and sharing inhumane conditions — Jesus living with Jesus. Unlike Sr. Immolatia, who was raised in New Mexico, Srs. Joana and Caritas have the additional, unenviable challenge of learning English in their new environment.
Last month Tracey, my wife Ria and I joined all three nuns as they renewed their religious vows in the presence of Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby. In his address, he thanked them for planting this seed of community within the diocese and prayed for their continued strength to reach out to the poor.
Sr. Immolatia said they have already started visiting the local women’s prison and have begun their outreach work on the streets as a presence to those who make the street their “home.”
Truly, the Church on the Street is alive and well in the Diocese of Hamilton.
(Kinghorn is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Toronto: firstname.lastname@example.org.)