By Mateus Lino – Brazil *
"We live beside those people who sleep on the streets of São Paulo. Today there are more than 30,000 homeless people: the number of women and children is increasing. It is a situation, as Pope Francis calls it, of a ‘throw-away' mindset toward the population and especially for the poor, whose last place is the street and who end up surviving in the streets of the city."
With these words, Father Júlio Lancellotti provides a cross-section of the social chaos experienced in Brazil's largest city, where he works to combat hunger. Coordinator of the Pastoral Care of the Street, his mission at 72-years-old is to witness to an "outgoing Church", just as the Pope has requested.
Father Júlio's routine
Wearing a white lab coat and an apron of St. Dulce of the Poor, of whom he is a devotee, Father Júlio says that his mission to the poorest of the poor in São Paulo started when he was a child.
At the time, he was following the work of his father, who collaborated with the social service for minors. Júlio played with the other children: "I always lived with them, and I was always struck by the violence of the authorities toward the poor," says the priest.
Every day, in front of his parish dedicated to St Michael the Archangel, in the Mooca neighborhood, Father Júlio goes out with a cart full of food and masks. The wheels are worn and it is difficult to push it. But the priest trudges on because he carries on his shoulders a life purpose that he fulfills daily at the "Centro São Martinho," two blocks from the church. There, 500 homeless people eat breakfast: for many, it is the only meal of the day.
The people waiting there recite their prayers and give heartfelt thanks to God and the priest. At all times, Father Júlio takes care of those people who look to him with eyes full of hope. Well-fed and with the comfort of donations, he leaves the "Centro São Martinho" to face another day on the road.
Daily donations to the poor
Back at the parish, Father Júlio distributes the last remaining loaves of bread from the cart. It is time to separate the many donations that arrive daily and at all hours: they are food, clothes, and personal hygiene products. Several hands work together to separate things. The volunteers work so that, in a short time, everything is ready to be distributed throughout São Paulo.
Victor Ângelo, a volunteer, comments on the social role of the priest in the city: "I have seen people get a house, documents and leave the streets. The priest does a lot, he takes care of social assistance for these people."
Giving voice to the poor and vulnerable
According to Father Júlio, it is necessary to promote a culture of encounter, so much encouraged by the Pope, instead of continuing to discard people on the street.
And this is precisely the service performed by St. Paul's street ministry, as Pope Francis exhorts in Laudato si', giving voice to the poor and vulnerable.
The Pope's phone call
"To live together. Living with them, celebrating with them, building with them. Make bread with them, and eating bread together," says Father Júlio.
This was the most important indication received from Pope Francis, when the priest was surprised by a phone call on 10 October 2020. On the other end of the phone line, there was the Pope himself, contacting him directly to encourage his work with the poor in Brazil.
"Talking on the phone with Pope Francis," he recounts, "was a very emotional moment, very beautiful, full of enthusiasm. What perhaps has changed now is the visibility, because people came to know that Pope Francis calls those who are facing a challenge, a difficulty, or when he wants to convey an important message. What he has transmitted to me is: 'Take care of the poor, be together with them.' And what he said to me: 'live with the poor like Jesus'."
*Contributors: Társila Elbert and Andressa Collet