With the city’s COVID restrictions easing, Archbishop Nelson Pérez sat down for a Philly-style meal on Wednesday, June 2 with around 100 clients and staff from a homeless ministry.

Italian Hoagies, Soft Pretzels, Tastykakes, and Popsicle were all on the menu at St. John’s Hospice (SJH), an archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) outreach service that provides crucial support to homeless men in the center. -City of Philadelphia.

Each weekday, SJH (a Catholic Charities Appeal recipient) provides over 300 meals to its residential and day guests, as well as case management, on-site nursing, daily showers and a mail room. In addition, each year the establishment accommodates some 250 men who move from homelessness to independent living.

The afternoon gathering was the second in a series of monthly “episcopal dinners” recently launched by CSS, which features Archbishop Pérez and his four auxiliary bishops, as well as staff and supporters of the archdiocese, the opportunity to share food and fraternity with the most marginalized people in the city.

(See a photo gallery from the event here.)

The dinners are designed to be more than “bring them in, feed them and bring them out,” said Amy Stoner, director of community, housing and homelessness divisions at CSS. “It’s a joyous occasion, with a seated style and live performances. “

Wednesday’s event included raffles, calls for prayer intentions and sidewalk musical performances by SJH Good Shepherd Singers and members of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia – including Pastor Father Christopher Walsh, sang a few bars of a Frank Sinatra “Summer Wind” while checking the sound.

“If I get my hand on a microphone, I can’t resist doing a little karaoke,” he joked, adding that the festivities showed that “the church is alive in many ways” and working for it. “(take care of) the least of our brothers and sisters.”

Hospice clients enjoyed the relaxed and welcoming dinner, said SJH director and permanent deacon Anthony Willoughby.

Archbishop Nelson Pérez speaks with members of Our House Ministry, a Catholic recovery organization based in south Philadelphia, during a “bishops dinner” on June 2 at St. John’s Hospice in downtown city ​​of philadelphia. (Gina Christian)

“It’s not lip service,” he said. “It shows the love of the church.”

At the same time, Stoner said, volunteers were not asked to “just serve” customers, but rather “to sit and have a meal together” in a spirit of face-to-face meeting.

Archbishop Pérez sat at a table with members of Our House Ministries, a Catholic nonprofit organization adjacent to St. Gabriel Parish in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of Philadelphia.

For Patrick Kennedy, a member of the Our House team, who recently helped coordinate the opening of a parish sanctuary for Revered Matt Talbot, recovery sponsor, the meal at SJH was especially important.

“I have eaten here before when I was homeless and hopeless,” said Kennedy, attributing his sobriety to “a personal relationship with… the Holy Trinity,” a regular attendance at Mass and participation in the Calix Society, a Catholic recovery support group.

Kennedy described the Archbishop as “very attentive” and said that the ability to just “sit and eat with him” shows “that we are all equal – there is no one higher, there is no has no one lower “.

Cathy, a nearby diner, said she was thrilled to “be with people and get to know them”, especially those “who talk about Christ”.

The dinner was one that Jesus himself would enjoy, said Anthony Albanese, a seminarian at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

“The Last Supper was a dinner around the table between Jesus and his apostles,” said Albanese. “And isn’t that what it is?”

Yes, said Bishop Pérez, who found the experience “very moving”.

“We have been in many ways so distant and so isolated from each other, and now we are here,” he said. “We come back to the table, both at church and here. This table is connected with the altar, and it is as sacred as this table.