Homeless dead memorialized in prayer
CLEARWATER, Fla. (The Florida Catholic) - No one present knew much about the homeless people who were being remembered in a memorial service here on the first day of winter in late December.
WE REMEMBER - Michael Douglas, a resident at Pinellas Hope, a site that offers shelter and help for homeless people and is operated by Catholic Charities, talks about a homeless man he knew briefly at a memorial service last month at Pinellas Hope. The service was for those homeless people who died last year. (Florida Catholic/Carlos Briceno)
Pinellas Hope was one of four sites in the county at which National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day was observed the evening of Dec. 21, 2007, with interfaith services coordinated by the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless. The names of 13 people who died while experiencing homelessness were read aloud during services at Pinellas Hope, St. Cecelia Parish in Clearwater, the St. Vincent de Paul Society in St. Petersburg and St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Tarpon Springs. Though the national remembrance, scheduled annually to coincide with the longest night of the year, was established in 1990, this was the first time it was observed in Pinellas County. A similar ceremony took place the same evening at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa.
Jesus, the refugee
At Pinellas Hope, more than a dozen people gathered under a large tent to hear music, Scripture passages and several short talks, and to light candles. Father Robert Schneider, pastor at Espiritu Santo Parish in Safety Harbor, was one of those who led the candle-lighting ceremony. In an interview, he said events such as the service are important to raise awareness of the issues of homelessness in Pinellas County, especially during the wintertime, when many homeless people face the cold without appropriate shelter.
He also related the story from Scripture of how Jesus was a refugee, his family and he seeking safety in Egypt after his birth to avoid persecution.
“All these issues mesh together at Christmastime and it gives us a chance to reflect upon our good fortunes, first of all, and the concern we want to have for others who are in need throughout our society and world,” Father Schneider said.
‘I knew Charles, not very well’
One of the homeless men at the service, Michael Douglas, spoke about one of the people who had died, 49-year-old Charles Cummings, who was found beaten to death Sept. 16, 2007, in downtown St. Petersburg.
“I knew Charles, not very well,” said Douglas, a resident at Pinellas Hope. “He was a nice guy and he was very quiet. He would pass you on the street and say ‘hi’ to you. He wasn’t the type of guy who would hurt anybody. He’s in heaven now and life is so precious. You can be here one day and gone another. That’s why I say to my brothers and sisters: Don’t live for tomorrow or the next day, but live for today because life is so precious. Life is a gift. Let’s live it for today.”
Another man who attended the service also knew Cummings. Marvin Parsons, also a resident at Pinellas Hope, said he met Cummings at St. Vincent de Paul’s soup kitchen and knew him for a few weeks.
“We would normally complain about this and that,” Parsons said. “He was very distinctive. You wouldn’t forget him. He kept a beard under his chin, but his face was smooth.”
Then one day, Parsons said he heard that Cummings, whose nickname was “Leprechaun,” had been beaten and died from severe upper-body trauma.
When asked if he ever was worried about being killed, Parsons replied, “Never worry about anything you can’t do anything about.”
‘Those whose names we couldn’t find’
Right before the candle-lighting ceremony, Father John Gerth, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park, talked about the importance of candles.
“A candle is a beautiful example of the fragility of life and yet the power and glory of what it can show,” he said. “It’s really just a piece of string and some wax, but yet what can it do for us? It lights a room. It sparks a memory. It calls us to another time and place — a place where we’re at peace, a place where we can find the mercy of God, a place where we know we are loved.
“And so we come, and we light these candles and we remember these names, because no names should ever be unremembered. No one should ever go uncelebrated. And so we light their candles tonight and we remember all those whose names we couldn’t find.”
This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Florida Catholic (www.thefloridacatholic.org), official newspaper of the dioceses of Orlando, Venice, St. Petersburg, Palm Beach and Pensacola-Tallahassee, and the Archdiocese of Miami.
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