KANSAS CITY, Kan. (CNS) They call themselves beggars. But should they appear at your door, there's no need to hide the silver or even to go digging for some spare change.
MEMBERS OF FRENCH ORDER WALK Members of the Little Sisters and Brothers of the Community of the Lamb, a branch of the Dominican order based in the south of France, walk along a street in Kansas City, Kan., in late July. Six men and women of the order made the trip to the Archdiocese of Kansas City, knocking on doors in their mission territory to beg for their daily bread. (CNS/The Leaven)
For the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Community of the Lamb, a branch of the Dominican order based in the south of France, go knocking on the doors of the houses of their mission territory to beg for one thing only their daily bread.
The order has not yet been established in the United States. But six men and women of the order made a mission trip this summer to the Archdiocese of Kansas City with a little help from newly ordained Father Anthony Ouellette, and took to the streets over a July weekend.
The name "Little Brothers and Sisters" is used to emphasize humility. Members dress in plain blue habits adorned only with wooden crosses. As members of a mendicant order, the men and women literally rely on donations and divine providence for their daily bread.
"Our only work is to live the gospel, to pray and celebrate the liturgy and to go into mission in poverty," said Sister Lucie, who was visiting from Vienna, Austria. (None of the community's members used last names.)
The mission Sister Lucie referred to is the order's daily practice of going out into whatever neighborhood they are in and begging for their food. Although begging is the term they use, it hardly encompasses what they actually do.
"Very often in the experience, we are just like instruments," she told The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan. "We knock at people's doors and we witness that they are visited by God not by ourselves. For us to listen, to talk and to pray for each of these people, for each family, that is most important."
Often people open their door with skepticism and mistrust, Sister Lucie said. But when the brothers and sisters ask only for a piece of bread they will take no money when they beg for food the reception changes.
Often the individual who met them at the door comes back with a beautifully prepared meal, Sister Lucie said, or the sisters or brothers are invited into the home to eat with the family.
The Little Brothers and Sisters came to the archdiocese at the invitation of Father Ouellette, who learned of the community three years ago while studying for the priesthood in Rome. Members of the community invited the then-seminarian to their house, and he was so impressed and moved by the experience that he kept returning.
"I saw in them a peace and joy that I did not have," the priest said. "I got to know them very well."
On two occasions when Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was in Rome, the now-Father Ouellette invited him to come to visit the house of the sisters. On both occasions "he accepted and celebrated Mass for them," the priest said, adding that the archbishop also invited members of the community to undertake a mission to the archdiocese.
Once in the archdiocese, the brothers and sisters, following community tradition, took the first bread they earned by begging to Archbishop Naumann.
"And so the first day we arrived here in Kansas City, we received the first bread from a very generous poor woman," said Brother Benoit of France. "And we brought it to the archbishop's door and, praise God, he was home. He opened the door with a big smile and said, 'Hello, welcome,' and he accepted the bread very humbly."
In the course of their travels which according to the order's custom usually involves hitchhiking the six men and women had many interesting stories to tell about their efforts to beg rides from Lawrence to Kansas City at a gas station on the turnpike.
Brother Isaac, from France, was especially touched when he was given a ride by a couple "all dressed in black, with piercings."
Earlier the same day, he explained, a young man similarly dressed gave the mendicant "a violent gesture" as he drove by. He was hurt by the act, but in keeping with the motto of the community "Wounded, I will never cease to love" he opened his heart to the next offer, even though the people were similarly dressed.
Not only did this couple give Brother Isaac and his friends a ride all the way to the door of The Sanctuary of Hope, their final destination in Kansas City, Kan., but the two also gave the hitchhikers a cool drink and asked for their prayers.
Father Ouellette, who acted as host for the brothers and sisters while they were in the archdiocese, said he has come to understand more about their mission.
"It's not just about being poor and begging," he explained. "But it is this movement toward communion, of knocking and being present Christ going out and saying, 'I thirst' and offering people the chance to receive the gospel in their homes."
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops