They believed those words: blessed are the poor. Last week I rode my scooter down to one of San Francisco’s poorest districts, the Tenderloin. A single mother with two small children, who feels welcome and loved in our parish, asked me to bless her new apartment. At 140 square feet and in the closest district that San Francisco has to a slum, it still costs her $1700 a month. So I rode down to the Tenderloin, a trip down memory lane for me, who with my younger brother had rented a small apartment there in the 1980s, the only thing we could afford for our first five months in the city.
I parked the bike on a slope, and it fell over. As I struggled to lift the 400lb motorbike, a gangly black fellow called out “need some help, brother?” I thanked him for this ray of human warmth. Such warmth, which alas used to characterize our beloved City by the Bay, is not characteristic these days. I walked down the block looking for her apartment. “Are you a priest?” another guy saluted me from the sidewalk. “Right on!” A lady smiled at me: “God bless you father.” The Tenderloin is human! There is a human warmth, a sense of brotherhood, that is characterized by folks who have made their peace with poverty.
I wonder what the people were like at Damien’s leper colony? Great misery, of course, but an underlying human warmth, I suspect. Our great cities pulsate with wealth, but remain cold and lonely places for so many. I don’t think I would want to live in the Tenderloin again, but its poor gave me a loving welcome one seldom feels in our city these days.