It is Thursday evening on Human Rights Day at about 10 p.m. and I am standing on Long Street just round the corner from the Church, chatting to a friend. While we are speaking I notice something about some of the people walking past me. You know the feeling when you know you are being looked at? You can feel it. So each time this would occur I would lock eyes with the person looking at me. They did not turn away. Instead their gaze became more intense – like we were playing a game to see who will blink first. Some would just continue looking at me while others would make other facial gestures – raise an eyebrow or nod their head. All making for a rather obvious pick up – except they weren’t trying to pick me up.
They were trying to see if I wanted to purchase some drugs. In the space of my hour conversation on the street there must have been about 10 people trying to get a sale from me. My friend had no clue what was going on – so at one point I indicated to one of the guys that I was interested. He came over and I asked him, “what you got for me?”. He said “weed, coke – some ice”. As simple as that. On telling him that “I would give it a skip tonight”, he proceeded to insist that I take his number – which I did.
A few minutes later we witnessed a Taxi driver vacuum clean some white stuff off the roof of his car with his nose – with an eager seller by his side. A second later he was giving two unsuspecting tourists a lift to their requested destination.
This experience happens every time I am on the street and not only at night. Drug sellers are walking around all the time as easy-going pedestrians. If you don’t know what you’re looking for you will not notice them. They do not carry any drugs on them – so the likelihood of them being caught is minimal. They call someone on the phone – and it is left to be picked up. And besides being difficult to link these guys – everyone knows that if one of them is arrested there are 9 more to replace him within the hour.
Drugs are terror-fying! The tragedy they cause is beyond measure. They are like a suicide bomb, being slowly detonated.
Ripping through an individual’s life and destroying their family and friends and community, at the same time. Every day we have courageous people coming to CMM to battle with their addictions (AA and NA lunchtime meetings) – they need our prayers more than anyone. But what haunted me on Thursday night was that the doors of CMM were closed and I felt quite useless not knowing what to do about it.
CMM is a city Church – a city Sanctuary and yet for the most part we are divorced from this context – oblivious to its existence. This troubles me – for I know that the Gospels tell us that Jesus spent more time on the streets than in the temple.
The recurring thought in my head went something like this: “I do not know what it would mean for our doors to be open but I do know what it means for our doors to be closed.” It sounds like a bit of a riddle I know – but I share it with you nevertheless – maybe we can make sense of it together.
Not unrelated to this I am inspired by Pope Francis who has decided to celebrate his first Maundy Thursday next week by washing inmates’ feet at a mass at Rome’s Casal del Marmo Juvenile Detention Centre. The Vatican said, “In his ministry as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) used to celebrate this mass in a prison or hospital or home for the poor.” Traditionally the Last Supper mass takes place at the church of St. John Lateran, a former papal palace. The decision to celebrate such an important Holy Week mass at a juvenile hall is in keeping with the themes of humility and simplicity struck early on in his week-old papacy. “If the ministry of the Bishop of Rome also implies power,” said Francis in his inaugural mass on Tuesday, “let us never forget that real power is in serving others, and that even the pope, in order to exercise power, must always enter into that service, which has its shining summit on the cross. “He must welcome with warmth and tenderness all of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, and the smallest. “Those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in jail”.
What power there is in moving from a papal palace to a prison to wash feet and share bread. It is a Jesus move if I have ever seen one. So after our Maundy Service this Thursday – with our feet still wet and our lips still sweet having shared bread and juice together, we will go out onto the streets and offer to wash people’s feet and share Holy Communion with them. From sanctuary to the streets …
May God enlarge our love for this journey. Alan