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Evansville, Indiana
December 11, 1987     The Message
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December 11, 1987
 

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Faith Today Supplement, The Message, Catholic Diocese of Evansville, December 11, 1987 1 Faith Today A suppment to Cothollc rewspopt published by NATIONAl. CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE 13t2 Mmsochusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005. with c't assistance fnxn The Cethohc Church EXTENBION soc,ety 3,5 lost Wckef Dr., (icogo, Illinos 60601 All contents copyright 1987 by NC News Sen,ice. 4.] By Cindy Liebhart NC New8 Service usually bustling Thomas Circle in Washington is nearly deserted. Windows in the big hotels on its perimeter are dark; the office buildings and tawdry shops down the street are empty. Even the brisk nighdy pros- titution trade subsides. Everyone has gone home -- ex- cept the homeless. In the hush, glowing luminaria are set out, lighting a path from the circle to a massive red sand- stone church. It is here that some of the city's homeless, and those who serve them year-round, discover anew the meaning of Jesus' birth. For the Rev. John F. Steinbruck, pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church and its "N Street Village," Christmas is at its heart a "festival of the homeless." Christians celebrate the coming of the "homeless Messiah" who remain- ed an itinerant throughout his life, Mr. Steinbruck said. He remembers the first time Luther Place opened the church to the homeless on Christmas, some 10 years ago. "At first I felt shock, culture shock, to see these human beings who didn't look like Lutherans...filling the social activities room, the hallways, the chapel -- quiet, shuffling, with their bags." Later, presiding over Christmas Eve Worship, the words of Luke's Gospel struck him forcefully: "She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (2:7). "It suddenly hit me, this is Christ sleeping in our shelter," Mr. Stein- bruck said. "It was very powerful. I realized the genuine, real, authen- tic, undisputed presence of Christ in ways J never knew in seminary or in theology books." "Christmas gives me a real good feeling," said Esther, a homeless woman attending a Bible study session at Bethany Women's Center, a day shelter offering hot lunches and social activities. Bethany Center is part of "N Street Village," a block of rowhouses behind Luther Place Church that provides a variety of services to help womenmove Festival of the homeless "Christmas gives me a real good feeling .... We are celebrating the birch of Christ .... He had nowhere to stay .... He chose to be born in a stable .... He could have chosen a nice place because he was a king, but he didn't...to show humility, I think." -- Esther from homelessness to independence. Esther's eager words spill out. "We are celebrating the birth of Christ .... He had nowhere to stay .... He chose to be born in a stable .... He could have chosen a nice place because he was a king, but he didn't...to show humility, I think." "Christmas?" asks ruddy-faced Theresa with a twinkle in her eye. "I usually have some eggnog with a little whisky in it," she says, to knowing laughter. "I like Christmas Eve," says Patricia, a young woman in dusty clothes she found in someone's trash. "I feel blessed then. I feel like I have a heact, like one side is blessed. If I work hard at it, my whole heart will be blessed. If I neglect a friend or neglect a chore or if I'm out on the street drink- ing wine or smoking reefer, then my heart is bad. I want to struggle to have a whole blessed heart." "I think Christmas would be sad for a person who is alone," says tall, slender Reba."But we havea roof over our head. We have .................... food. We're alive .... It's a blessing to be alive." [][][] For shelter providers, Christmas is a "difficult time," said Erna Steinbruck, director of Bethany Women's Center. Nonetheless, it is "a time when I would not want to be away." Every day Mrs. Steinbruck faces a stream of women needing her immediate attention -- be it one who wants help writing a letter petitioning the court to regain custody of her children or another who has just come through the door, battered and dirty. Most of those she meets at Bethany suffer from some mental illness. At Christmas though, the women "need us more than ever," Mrs. Steinbruck said. "Emotions are very high. There are a lot of sparks flying." Bethany staff members put casework aside during that period and instead, try simply "to be pre- sent to one another," Mrs. Stein- bruck said. They aiso rganize Christmas caroling outings and help guests write Christmas cards. . "Possibly we can make some dif- ference in the lives of some who have too much pain," Mrs. Stein- bruck said. She noted that every Christmas the center is deluged by phone calls from well-intentioned, would-be volunteers offring to serve Christmas dinner "so we can be home with our families." But "this is family too," she said, gestur- ing to the women gathered beyond her cramped office. "There are so many memories, so many different lives..." (Ms. Liebhart is associate editor of Faith Today.) \