From all normal accounts it might look to you as if nothing is happening in our pandemic afflicted Riverside world. But that is certainly not the case here at Queen of Angels Parish. Since way back in March, the services we render our impoverished, mainly un-documented regulars through our “Food Pantry” program have been steadily increasing. At first we feared that we would not be able to continue because of the strain on staffing and food supplies, but miracles happen. The more they came to our door with open hands and empty stomachs, the more there were food supplies, and donations of time, energy and love. Not just from our parishioners either. It started to take on the look of a “neighborhood watch”—not against crime but against hunger and poverty.
At first there was just the regular group of helpers along with Frs Predheep, Charles and myself. When Covid started to raise serious alarms we feared that we might have to discontinue the service. Then, slowly at first, the word started to go out—people told their friends and they told their friends and soon we had almost as many people donating as there were receiving the donations. Then it went beyond our local boundaries and the city of Riverside jumped in with 60 boxes of food and then it increased to 80 boxes.
Up until now it hasn’t stopped. It has created an explosion of activity and an outpouring of love. Other churches and companies chipped in. And now we are up to almost 2,000 boxes. It is non-stop! The special donations for Thanksgiving and Christmas brought in $8,000.
The more people heard about it, the more they wanted to help. Help was coming in from all sides. Of course, in our state of “deep purple,” we have been careful to follow the strict Covid guidelines of distancing and masks, but that hasn’t stood in the way of feeding the hungry and caring for the unfortunate. Because of our increased number of volunteers, we have even been able to offer service to families at their homes—something we have wanted to do in the past but were unable to do because we didn’t have the help we needed. What a wonderful sign of God’s presence! It’s like the feeding of the 5,000 on the hillside—the greater the need the greater and more loving the response by all.
This is where a regular parish distinguishes itself as a “mission” parish. This is where we, as Divine Word Missionaries, are happy to say, “this is our charism; it is who we are”. If Jesus was here in Riverside right now wouldn’t he be caring for the needs of his people? Yes, the gospel is preached but with more than just words of mercy. We have Jesus’ clear invitation (Mt. 25:40) to engage in acts of mercy—serving the poor, the marginalized, the losers and the lost—for there we meet God. And it is there we meet our missionary calling.
Fr. Beni Leu S V D
(Pastor, Queen of Angels – Riverside CA)