The religious order is not just serving food, but bringing hope.
The Franciscan Solidarity Service of Solidarity (“Sefras,” from its name in Portuguese) has distributed more than half a million bagged meals to homeless, unemployed, immigrants and refugees in the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo—the world’s 4th largest municipality by population, and the capital of the state of the same name— during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Franciscan Tent (set up on a public plaza) is located in the central region of the city of São Paulo, where, since the pandemic began four months ago, they have distributed more than 4,000 meals each day.
On the occasion of giving out the 500,000th meal on July 13, an event was held bringing together the team of Sefras, donors, volunteers and representatives of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, the Franciscan Order and the public authorities of São Paulo. Vatican News reported on the event and quoted some of the testimonies.
Laura Cruz, representing all the people who have benefited from this initiative, said, “I’ve been on the street for two years and I know how important this food is every day.” Fr. José Francisco de Cássia dos Santos, director of Sefras, also addressed those present, saying,
“Our thanks to all the workers, volunteers, donors and partners who have helped us to maintain our commitment to welcome, care for and defend those who need it most. The tent has become a symbolic space where we find a reflection of the vulnerability of the social structure in which we live, and also the strength found in a current of solidarity.”
Fr. Gustavo Medella, Vicar Provincial of the Franciscans, added, “Even in the face of this challenging scenario, there are many people who reveal their most beautiful side through solidarity and empathy.” He points out, however, that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. “If we distribute so much food in such a short time, it’s a sign that there are many people being deprived of this basic right of nutrition. Our hope is that the same energy undertaken during the emergency will be maintained in order to seek” more permanent solutions.
The Franciscans’ work of solidarity has been possible thanks to thousands of donors and more than 500 volunteers who have helped to distribute more than 350 tons of food as well as thousands of blankets and personal hygiene kits.
As Ariadne Natal, one of the volunteers, said, “We’re here not just to serve food, but to give hope!”