The Capuchin Day Centre

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 10th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: caring for the poor. 

The Bible places great emphasis on that. But what does it look like today to care for the poor? When is help helpful? And when does it merely enable bad habits that lead to poverty in the first place?

REICHARD: For example: Should Christians help the able-bodied poor try to improve their circumstances?

Or should they provide help, no questions asked?

Recently WORLD Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky—along with WORLD Radio’s Susan Olasky—visited a feeding program in Ireland. They bring us this report.

SUSAN OLASKY, REPORTER: The old Jameson distillery on Bow Street in Dublin is a popular tourist attraction. But across the street, the Capuchin Day Centre is popular with another clientele: Dublin’s growing homeless population.

AUDIO: Overlapping voices

Outside the Day Centre, men line up for breakfast. On a typical morning 2 to 300 will show up. Doors open again at one for a full dinner. Nearly 600 will cycle through then. This goes on six days a week.

And there’s more. As many as 300 families receive baby food and diapers on Mondays. And on Wednesdays volunteers give out more than 1,500 food parcels—tea, sugar, butter, tins of beans. The numbers have increased fourfold in four years.

The Day Centre is the work of Capuchin friar Kevin Crowley. He’s a rosy-cheeked, white-haired 83-year-old, with a sparse white beard on his chin. He dresses in the long brown hassock of the Capuchin order.

Brother Crowley became a Capuchin because he loved Saint Francis.

CROWLEY: I saw Francis as a person who loved people. That gave me the courage to try to do exactly, not exactly, but to make an effort to do what St. Francis wanted to do in helping people, loving people, kindness to people. That’s our main concern here.

But what does that love and kindness look like? During an interview in Brother Crowley’s office, he sketched out the most important principles.

CROWLEY: Our main concern is the dignity and the respect of each person. We don’t ask any questions, because we feel it’s difficult enough for people to come to a place like ours without putting all sorts of questions to them.

He repeated that basic point many times during our half-hour interview.

CROWLEY: We don’t pry into their private lives. If they want to talk, we listen to them, but we find it would be embarrassing and not nice to be putting all sorts of questions to them.

But that means the Centre has only a general sense of who is coming and what issues they’re dealing with.  

MARVIN OLASKY: What percentage do you think are alcoholic or addicts. What percentage have mental illness. What percentage are just unemployed and homeless through? CROWLEY: I don’t go into the details of how many people have mental problems or drinking problems or drug problems, but quite a number. We treat everybody alike, you know. Whether they haven’t got a problem or have a problem. We make sure that everybody is treated with respect.

We tried to get a sense whether he thought categorizing people might be useful to help determine who is willing to work, following the command of 2 Thessalonians 3:10.  

CROWLEY: As I repeat so many times, my concern is to make sure nobody will die of hunger and nobody will die on the streets. For the sake of giving them some food. Food is so important.

Back down in the dining room, breakfast is winding down.

AUDIO: Table scraping in main hall.

A priest and nun from Africa are busing tables. A few stragglers are eating, and other volunteers are getting reading for the lunch crowd, just an hour-and-a-half away. Manager Alan Bailey gives a quick tour.

BAILEY: Nice and quiet now. This is our main hall. We can seat 120 in the hall. That’s our family-only area over there.

Bailey began volunteering in 1972 when he was still a cop.

BAILEY: Quite a crossover of client

But since he retired in 2011, he has been working at the Centre full time. Though you might expect his law enforcement background to bleed into his work here, his non-obtrusive stance sounds very much like Brother Crowley.

CROWLEY: For the most part people who come in, they sit down and have their meal. That’s all they want. The fact that we don’t ask who they are or what they are does help. We’re not intrusive. We’re here. Take what you want.

The Centre offers AA meetings, but again, no one keeps track of who goes.

CROWLEY: We don’t ask. It’s none of our business. If people come to dinner, they’re not there to be preached to or to be converted. That’s how we feel.

Brother Crowley acknowledges that some people come year after year. He recalled one man who began coming at age 17 or 18. He developed a 20-beer-a-day habit and slept on the streets. But in his 60s he received a cancer diagnosis. The Capuchin Day Centre was able to get him surgery, nursing care, and hospice care.

CROWLEY: He died in great dignity. Great respect. We buried him from here. As we have buried many people who are homeless and have nobody to belong to them.

Brother Crowley sums up his definition of Christian care.

CROWLEY: Show them love and respect and dignity.

The lack of basic information about clients means that the Capuchin Day Centre has no so-called success stories to tell. No stories to encourage its volunteers that change is possible. Brother Crowley said once again.

CROWLEY: I don’t follow through. Again, I’m very concerned about the privacy of each person. And what happens after leaving here, if he makes good or bad, that’s his concern.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Susan Olasky, reporting from Dublin, Ireland.

(Str/Reuters/Newscom) People queue for food at the Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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