A group of the faithful in Westchester County, New York, put aside their own needs — and think of those who have far less.
I pulled into the Ferragu residence in Scarsdale, New York, at 5 p.m. on a frigid and snowy December afternoon just a few weeks ago. Over 20 high school boys and girls, along with several of their parents, were in rapid motion for the good of others.
They’d put down slices of bread on the kitchen counter and were carefully applying peanut butter and jelly or ham and cheese. Large pans of chicken soup and hot chocolate were brewing on the stove, soon be deposited into thermos containers.
Nearby, plastic bags that had been packed with Handi Wipes, toothpaste, and other personal-care items were going into a large box — while piles of winter coats and gloves were already neatly stacked on the living room floor. The younger children were placing pieces of chocolate and plastic rosary rings in small boxes to give as gifts — and everyone was doing all of this work with a great attitude.
Aude and Pierre Ferragu soon assembled the entire group in the living room and said, “Let’s remember that during our ‘Jesus Run,’ we’re trying to communicate the love of Jesus to every person we meet along the way. Let’s say a little prayer to Jesus and the Blessed Mother, so that we can be effective instruments of His love tonight.”
Because of the heavy snow that evening, it took our group about two hours — twice the normal time — on slippery and icy roads to make it down to Penn Station in Manhattan.
Just outside Penn Station, members of the homeless community were waiting for our group with grateful hearts and deep smiles on their cold and tired faces, and I could see they’d developed a connection with many of these kids and their parents. They stood chatting for some time — people on both sides seemed to be catching up with each other.
As I handed one woman a cup of hot soup, she told me, “Father, I appreciate the soup on this cold night, but what I most appreciate is that you all do it with love.”
Pierre Ferragu is one of the business leaders in our Lumen Institute group in New York City; he helps his wife, Aude, coordinate this run every month. After that evening, I asked him to share his insights on this effort, and he did so generously.
“What we want to achieve with the Jesus Run is not so much finding a solution to poverty, but offering people around us (and ourselves!) the opportunity to experience charity on a regular basis,” he said. “It works admirably well. We typically see a family show up to help the first time because their teen needs to fill some community service hours. Then they become regular participants because they enjoy the time they spend with the homeless. We believe we can help transform people by offering them regular opportunities to experience practical charity — and we definitely feel transformed by this monthly routine.”
He added, “Involving the children is an amazing experience. The other day our nine-year-old was asked what was good about being a Catholic. Her first response was, ‘As a Catholic, you can give food to the poor.’ Every time we take our seven-year-old to the city, he gives out one-dollar bills to the poor. Even very young children are incredibly at ease during this Jesus Run. They have no difficulty going toward the homeless and engaging with them, and the joy they bring is indisputable. We encourage families to bring young children — the same thing happens with our teenagers. They love it. Our oldest, for her Sweet 16 party, wants to organize a dinner in the city with her friends, followed by a run to share meals with the homeless.”
Ferragu summed up the experience this way: “We create bonds with the homeless. We give out about 40 meals in an evening, and we’ll typically meet about 10-15 ‘regulars.’ They show up most of the time. We know their names, they sometimes know ours — and we know a bit of their story.”
Patrick Coughlin, a 29-year-old lawyer in our fellowship program, had also joined us that evening, and he noted later, “I was most struck by the kids who regularly make the trek into New York City to serve the poor. They were all joyfully and enthusiastically engaging with those who came by for hot soup or clothes. It was inspiring to see young people making a habit of celebrating the humanity in others.”
One of the high school girls shared an encounter that she and her friends had with a 40-year-old homeless woman in the subway tunnel. This woman said these touching words: “I have been homeless for over 10 years now and it has been really tough. I have not had much faith along the way, but the joyful and compassionate presence of you and your friends makes me think God just may exist. Thank you for spending this time with me.”
The joy of giving and the joy of receiving — this is God’s love in action for all of us.