A moveable feast: a friar puts his soup kitchen on wheels

This is a small stroke of genius:

Brother Al Mascia has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and so does his flock.

After losing the brick-and-mortar headquarters for his Detroit-based charitable operations earlier this month, the brown-robed Franciscan friar has kept serving the homeless, the elderly and others in Detroit.

Mascia anticipated the closing of the building more than a year ago and raised $4,000 to buy two specially designed tricycles with vendor carts in front and storage trailers in the back so he wouldn’t miss a beat in serving his clientele.

“St. Francis went beyond the walls of the medieval city to serve the exiled,” said Mascia, referring to St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Catholic religious order to which Mascia belongs. “Now, I have no walls between me and the people I serve.”

Mascia’s Canticle Café and St. Al’s Community Center used to be housed in a large aging building on Washington Boulevard that cost $200,000 a year in utilities and maintenance. The building’s owner, the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, sold it to a private firm that now owns the entire side of the street.

An archdiocese official said it cannot find an affordable new space for the community center because many building owners in a rebounding downtown don’t want a tenant that serves the poor and homeless.

But the development didn’t stop Mascia. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, in sun, sleet and snow, he pedals into the outdoor waiting area of the Rosa Parks Transit Center on the tricycle — a practice he started last year.

He comes loaded with hot drinks, sandwiches and fruit, small packets of toiletries and clothing. He said he won’t be serving today because there are meals served all over the city, but he does plan on serving people on Christmas Day.

On Tuesday last week, dozens quickly lined up — the homeless Army veteran with two children, the recovering crack addict, the elderly woman who said she comes mainly to stave off loneliness. Mascia and three volunteers gave away all they had within 45 minutes.

“Brother Al is always working for the people,” said Leona Palazzolo of Detroit, who says she has relied on the friar’s services for seven years. “He’s always got time to listen to you, and he doesn’t ever talk down to you. He’s just real nice to be around.”

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Comments

  1. God bless him! And may someone, somewhere in the rebounding neighborhood have mercy and help to find just the affordable space needed. In the meantime, these “meals on wheels” are a beautiful sign of Christ in the world.

  2. thanks for sharing this, dcn. greg. do you know where/how folks could send donations or get involved?

  3. This is clearly someone who understands the Franciscan Charism of the order he serves and the founder of his order. Way to go Father for showing the world in your own small but still siginficant way, what St. Francis was, and continues to be all about.

  4. May God Bless him. He’s an inspiration for all of us.

  5. God bless him. I hope he doesn’t get rolled.

  6. Deacon John says:

    I know Brother Al. He did similar work here in inner city Cincinnati.
    He’s the real deal.
    A good man.
    A good friar….doing just as St. Francis would have…
    I am glad to call him a friend.
    God Bless you Brother Al!

  7. This is brilliant!!! We need more of this. The church should organize it. I would contribute to it. Does it occur to people that the more we let government take care of the needy, the more people become indifferent to religion? We need to do what was once done routinely and probably was the biggest reason for the spread of Christianity in the first few centuries, hands on charity, human contact, not a government beauracracy.

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