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The Kindness of Strangers




By Gregory Kepferle
CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation

Years ago when I was in college, a friend and I decided we would take a couple of weeks during summer break and make a hitchhiking pilgrimage through the eastern United States based on the Gospel story of Jesus sending his disciples out in pairs to spread the Good News dependent on the goodwill of the people they met for room and board.

Of course, as idealistic college kids we called it a pilgrimage, intending on visiting various shrines. The journey was actually part pilgrimage and part bumming around (much like the pilgrimages of the Middle Ages). In the era before cell phones, we did have emergency phone numbers and addresses of friends on a piece of paper. We took pocket New Testaments and Psalms and made prayer a regular part of our daily routine. For emergencies we had only a few coins. We mainly relied on the kindness of strangers to give us rides, to share a meal or a drink of water and to put us up for a night. It was an adventure: scary, exciting, humbling, and filled with moments of peace and grace. We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from or where we would sleep each night (in a barn, on a porch, or in a convent), but we trusted we would survive. Along the way we encountered some suspicion and rejection, but mainly we met many very generous people. Over and over again we received the gift of mercy, the gift of encountering Good Samaritans.

The grace I experienced so many years ago reminds me to follow Jesus’ call to be like the Good Samaritan, to “go and do likewise,” to be neighbor to those in need on the Jericho Road (Luke 10:25-37).

My journey along “the Jericho Road” years ago gave me a small taste of what many of the people we serve at Catholic Charities have experienced: hunger, homelessness, loneliness, danger, despair or rejection. I also know the feeling of relief of being welcomed and fed, the joy of drinking clear cool water, and the comfort of a safe place to stay. I am inspired when I see people walk through our doors and know they will find a welcoming caring community, and find food, housing, jobs, a sense of belonging, a place to learn, and healing and hope. This is the gift of mercy the church offers through Catholic Charities and through our parishes and other service organizations. I invite you to join us at Catholic Charities by sharing the mercy you have received with others in need.

To donate, volunteer or to learn more, go to www.CatholicCharitiesSCC.org.