Something beautiful will happen in Buenos Aires tonight. At around 6 p.m. a group of people will begin to congregate at the convent of St. Dominic in San Telmo, one of the city’s older barrios. There they’ll begin to prepare food in the kitchen. Really, the kitchen is more of a walk-in closet with an oven, but that doesn’t stop upwards of ten people from cheerfully piling into it. A number of them get the actual work done, and the rest offer helpful friendly comments. It’s quite a mix of people: a lawyer, a house painter, a policeman, a nurse, some university students, a man who repairs watches… More and more people arrive as the evening goes on. Once finished, the food is brought to a larger room where others begin to divide it into individual portions. Someone prepares thermoses of tea, coffee, and juice. At 8 p.m. they pray together and then go out into the streets of the city, where they begin to cover a familiar route of ten blocks or so, handing out the food to the people living in the streets, reading the gospel to them, praying, and visiting. This happens every Wednesday. They call it “La Noche de La Caridad.”
What’s most striking about these nights is not so much the giving of food but more the real friendship that is evident between the people giving the food and the people in the streets. They’ve been covering this same route for years now, so most everyone is a familiar face. One evening, it turned out that it was the birthday of one of the men in the streets. The date had been remembered, and a cake had been purchased just for him. He quickly called a number of his friends whose spots were on the same street, and a small party developed.
The people of La Noche de La Caridad are adamant that they would still go out each Wednesday even if it turned out that there was no food available. It is easy enough for a homeless person to find food in a large city. Attention, time, friendship, and love, on the other hand, are much harder to come by. These they receive at least once a week. One man, Luis, sits on the same bench in the Plaza de Mayo, even in the rain, waiting for his weekly visit. Luis is always the last stop of the night. There’s singing (which, with Argentines, means there’s also impromptu dancing), laughter, conversation, and prayer at the end. Slips of paper with the names of everyone they saw that night are passed out to each in the group as reminders to pray throughout the week. The group disperses just in time for people to catch the last subway train of the day.
This is not a complicated event, and perhaps it is not particularly out of the ordinary, but it is good to know that it occurs, that Christ is being loved in the least of society.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)