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The Gubbio Project

 St. Francis of Assisi was known as a peacemaker, and his talents reached mythic proportion.  One example is the story of the peace agreement he brokered between the townspeople of Gubbio and a ravenous wolf---helping all parties realize that through communication, common ground could be discovered and community found. Some 800 years later, in a town named for the sainted peacemaker and slightly larger in size than Gubbio---San Francisco---two parties again found themselves embroiled in an angry stand-off, and ironically a Franciscan was part of the solution. The Tenderloin and the Mission districts are populated by a sizeable homeless population.  And for local residents and business owners the homeless had become problematic.  Due to their outward appearance, their dirty clothes, their emotional brokenness, and the smell of despair homeless people were being accused of scaring away business and frightening their housed neighbors. But social activists Fr. Luis Vitale, OFM of St. Boniface Catholic Church, and Shelly Roder of St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church saw an opportunity to build community.  And in 2004 they formed the non-denominational Gubbio Project, dedicated to three goals: 1) to provide a clean, beautiful, quiet, and safe space for homeless people to rest during the day, 2) to cultivate a sense of community among the homeless and a sense of understanding and shared responsibility in the broader community, and 3) to attend to the physical, social, psychological and spiritual well-being of homeless guests who share the ‘Gubbio space’ at St. Boniface and St. John. So each weekday, starting at 6 AM, while the front 1/3 of the St. Boniface and St. John the Evangelist sanctuaries are still used for  Mass, the back 2/3rds of both church spaces are designated for rest and sleep for the area’s homeless.  On average over 300 men and women seek refuge in these two churches daily, and are embraced and cared for by approximately 100 neighborhood volunteers:  no questions are asked, no forms are filled out, and no one is left feeling unloved. Gubbio gives out approximately 150 blankets a month, an average of 100 pairs of socks per week, and an average of 75 hygiene kits monthly (including shampoo, soap, shaving equipment and toothbrushes) to its residents.  Additionally, chaplaincy services, foot care by registered nurses, and neck and upper body massage services are offered to residents and funded by the Gubbio Project. No doubt, well-crafted sermons are preached from the pulpits of St. Boniface and St. John the Evangelist, but infinitely greater sermons are lived in the back of these parishes, where the inherent worth of every human being is celebrated and ‘loving thy neighbor’ becomes real. Fr. Luis Vitale, Shelly Roder, and everyone connected with the Gubbio Project are heroes you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

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