Editor’s note: The homeless man’s name referenced in this story was changed to protect his identity.
A homeless man befriended by Catholic urban missionaries suffered serious injuries when his skull was fractured in an attack late July 12 or early July 13, according to Colin Miller, one of seven missionaries in the Source of All Hope outreach based at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore.
“Josh” had been living in a tent on the median strip along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near downtown Baltimore when the attack occurred. He underwent emergency surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore and was recently discharged.
Miller, who befriended Josh two years ago during the missionary’s regular walks through city streets, said that although shaken by the attack, he and his fellow missionaries have rallied behind their friend.
“This is not the worst I’ve seen over the last few years,” Miller said, “but it’s really hard because Josh was honestly a really good friend. The hardest part of it all is seeing him and wanting the best things for him and knowing that that’s going to take time and it’s going to take God’s grace for real change to come into effect.”
Miller heard of the attack when the victim’s mother called him and asked for prayers. The missionaries – two young men and five young women – joined others from the basilica community and beyond in starting a prayer network for Josh, a man in his 40s. Angelus Virata, the basilica’s director of evangelization, reported that more than 250 people were praying for Josh.
Miller visited his friend in the hospital, where Father James Boric, the basilica’s rector, administered the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
Miller, who declined to provide the name of his friend or put the Catholic Review in touch with him, said Josh wound up on the streets as a result of substance abuse. The victim’s tent was slashed with knives during the attack, Miller said, adding that the circumstances of what provoked the incident are unclear.
“It definitely makes you feel powerless and it makes you feel your poverty,” said Miller, 30. “Our instinct is to do whatever we can to make things right and to make things better for our brothers and sisters. But the reality is that we can’t do that in most cases. A lot of times, our role ends up being like John and Mary at the foot of the cross because we can’t take our friends down from the cross.”
A fundamental goal of the Source of All Hope missionary effort is to show God’s love to people others may ignore and to develop real relationships with them. It is not a social service program, although the missionaries make referrals to agencies such as Catholic Charities. They also distribute socks and water bottles, and share meals with the homeless.
“A lot of times what we’re actually doing is walking alongside them through the process of getting help – whether it means going to the doctors, going to rehab or just having someone there who’s going to be with you in the midst of a change that terrifies a lot of them at times,” Miller said.
Missionaries are ready to wait until their street friends are ready for help, Miller said.
“Being able to talk with them and give them a place where they can voice their motivations for making a change makes a huge difference in their lives,” he explained.
Miller said Josh has attended Mass with the missionaries at the Baltimore Basilica once or twice and enjoys having lively conversations. Although back on the streets, Josh seems to be in good spirits.
“He’s got a pretty gnarly scar on his head,” Miller said, “but otherwise, he mentally seems totally there and his spirits are relatively high. We had a good, good talk after he got out and spoke about some of his hopes and fears moving forward.”
Miller has been in conversation with Josh’s family about the possibility of someone taking him in. That doesn’t seem possible at the moment, Miller said.
“He’s not ready for it and they’re not ready for it,” he said.
Despite his friend’s ongoing challenges, Miller is optimistic about his future.
“Just the fact that we had so many people praying for him and that he was able to receive the sacraments was incredible,” Miller said. “It just gave me the sense that the Lord – one way or another – is going to take care of him.”
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org
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