Brothers in the Bronx: Young Friars Work with the City’s Poor
Spotting a man sleeping outside of a church in midtown, Brother Angelo, 31, signaled to the right and pulled over to the curb. A group of young men — friars, draped in long gray robes, bearing sandwiches, fruit snacks and rosary beads — hopped out of the vehicle.
“If you remember me in your prayers, I would appreciate it,” said Heimer, an elderly gentleman who only disclosed his first name. He approached the van to pick up some food and then started up a conversation with the brothers.
“Absolutely…Well, do you want to pray right now? ” Angelo smiled and held out his hand. “We try and pray all the time, anything in specific?”
On the first Friday of every month, the Franciscan Friars partake in what they call a “Jesus Run” — a night where they seek out homeless people to offer food, prayers and a humble introduction to their faith.
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal live on a quiet block just off Melrose Avenue in the South Bronx. The brothers, ranging in age from their early 20s to late 50s, moved there in 1987 to “live a simple, prayer life” and serve the community’s poor.
Unlike monks who tend to live secluded in monasteries, friars blend their monastic life with work in the neighborhood. The brothers, most of whom have four-year degrees in theology or philosophy, follow the “Rule of St. Francis” — a Catholic order founded by the Italian Saint in the 13th century. They depend almost entirely on donations to support themselves and their charity work, which includes a residential homeless shelter that sits next door to the friary.
“We’re low-tech,” explains Brother Shamus, 30, a new brother originally from Mass. “We don’t have the Internet, we don’t have cell phones and we don’t have televisions in our friaries…There is a real beauty in that; you can have a real relationship, face to face.”
In addition to their work in the community, the brothers spend about four to five hours a day praying, learning and teaching the work of St. Francis.
“Oh yeah, there are still sacrifices,” Angelo chuckled as he drove the van through Time Square. The brothers live a celibate life and Angelo said he prepared for it by dating less before he officially converted.
“Everybody struggles, but that’s human, which is beautiful.”