With dangerous cold gripping the area through Christmas and into the New Year, the Catholic Church did what it does best, mobilizing to help in an immediate crisis, what a St. Patrick's Center official called "lifesaving mode."
This isn't an exaggeration. At least two people had died this winter as of Jan. 3, with one man found frozen to death in a trash bin where he apparently had been sleeping.
Agencies, ministries, religious communities and parishes responded to the cold emergency, answering the call not only of this specific emergency but continuing to answer the greater call of Catholic teaching.
"... when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:13-14).
Overnight emergency shelters such as the expanded Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, in which St. Patrick's Center and Peter and Paul Community Services partner with the City of St. Louis, were jammed. And several parishes, including Sts. Teresa and Bridget and St. Francis Xavier "College" parishes, were overnight shelters as part of St. Louis Winter Outreach.
Maureen Nolan of Sts. Teresa and Bridget observes the need for shelter every day, not just cold ones. "I live Downtown, and I see people on the street," she said. "There's just not enough room in the city shelters."
Meanwhile, Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service's Street Outreach visited homeless hiding in plain sight, such as under highway overpasses. Serving St. Charles, Lincoln and Warren counties, the ministry team has been patrolling the area — its usual routine — and helping people who are homeless find accommodations during the sub-freezing emergency.
Then, there's the Vicentians, the first religious community to set foot in what became the Archdiocese of St. Louis more than 200 years ago. It's no coincidence that St. Vincent de Paul is a patron saint of the archdiocese.
Like many religious communities, the Vincentians are on the frontlines working with the poor, making home visits — among many other things — to neighbors in need
"We know and feel their urgency for help," said John Foppe, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis. "As we meet with these neighbors person to person in their cold homes, we feel the cold that they experience. We see it. Vincentians are out there doing what they do every day providing assistance, whether it's bringing them supplies or in some extreme cases putting some folks up in hotels."
Foppe also asked for prayer, saying: "We need to keep our hearts and minds around our neighbors in need — it can happen to anybody."
After the cold crisis ends and most people move on, the homeless will return to ... homelessness. The need still continues, hence the urgency to answer the greater call of Catholic teaching.