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Brother Al and the Canticle Cafe View Comments
By Text and photos by Marylynn Hewitt

A careful look spots Brother Sun and Sister Moon on Al’s cart as the #21 pulls up and Al reaches out in service.

I was sitting here waiting on the bus, about freezing to death, the first time I saw him,” Kelly Howard says of Brother Al Mascia and the Canticle Café mobile unit. She recalls the line forming at the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit and people walking away with coffee and sandwiches. “I said, ‘Free? Are you serious?’ So I got me a sandwich and it was wonderful. I was going to the doctor, didn’t eat, you know. I’m a diabetic, so it really helped me out.”

Five days a week, teams of volunteers minister in the style of St. Francis, who left the walls of Assisi to help others. The first official run of the bicycle-cart ministry, which includes a back-end trailer loaded with seasonal necessities such as hats, gloves, scarves, socks, and hand- and foot-warmers, was Christmas Day 2010.

The mobile-units ministry follows an 18-year tradition of St. Aloysius Parish (served by the Franciscans of our own St. John the Baptist Province) opening the doors of their community center’s Canticle Café six mornings a week. Visitors to the Café would find coffee, along with donated breakfast food.

The Café, part of the parish’s community center, was a respite for men, women and children who had no home or needed a meal; a place to warm up in the winter or cool off in the summer. Seniors in nearby subsidized apartment buildings also gathered for fellowship and weekly grocery bags. Then, this past October, the building holding the community center and parish offices was shuttered.

“Once we learned that we would no longer be able to remain for a number of reasons, including safety reasons, we started exploring the possibility of renting space of our own. That led to dead ends,” says Brother Al, coordinator of street ministry.

The parish offices were moved across the street and are tucked into a small area of the ground floor of the rectory, attached to St. Aloysius Church. “We Franciscans still felt a tremendous need to remain and serve and minister in downtown Detroit, and we’re committed to continue to do so,” says Brother Al, even without a brick-and-mortar structure.

Brother Al, once a New Yorker, remembered the vendor carts plying their goods in New York and the well-known Passover song “Dayenu,” sung at every Seder meal. The song, listing the mighty acts of God, says that each act “would have been enough.” Brother Al thought about a cart: Even if that’s all we have, that would be enough. The Canticle Café would be reborn—on wheels!

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Marylynn G. Hewitt, S.F.O., owns MGHewitt Communications, based in the greater Detroit area. In June 2010 she wrote the award-winning article “Father Don Archambault: Uniting People for God” for this magazine.

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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