St. Benedict the Black Mission
St. Benedict’s is a Mission located right off of East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth, TX. This neighborhood was recently ranked the fifteenth-worst neighborhood in the United States and has a large population of homeless, mentally ill, addicts, and ex-convicts. This concentration is so high that, within a three-by-three block span, there are three homeless shelters for singles and families, drug and alcohol rehabilitation housing, abused and battered women housing, veteran housing, a county clinic, county mental health facility, and numerous tracts of land supporting semi-permanent “tent cities.” It was to the heart of this area that Bishop Kevin Vann desired to bring a Catholic apostolate—not to add to the long list of physical and material services already provided but primarily to address the greatest and most forgotten poverty: loneliness, loss of dignity, and lovelessness.
The Mission is run by friars and lay-volunteers. The volunteers begin their day at the friary with Mid-Morning Prayer and try to carry the spirit of prayer through the entire day. An old storage shed was renovated and transformed into our St. Maximilian Kolbe Oratory and it is in this holy place that the volunteers take turns interceding for our guests throughout the day. “People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone. Piety does not undermine the struggle against the poverty of our neighbors, however extreme…. Prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 36).
Since the Mission is only large enough to accommodate twenty-two guests at a time, the atmosphere lends itself to more intimate relationships and one-on-one service. The guests are allowed to remain in the mission seeking refuge from the drugs, crime, and weather for as long as they like, but most move in and out throughout the day (about 150-200 are served each day). They pass their time at the mission eating, playing chess, reading, or chatting with the volunteers, the friars, and one another. The guests at St. Benedict’s are served pastries provided daily by a local, up-scale grocery store, fresh fruit donated by a network of benefactors and their choice of water, milk, coffee, cocoa or Gatorade. At the close of each day, the guests return to the streets from which they escaped for a few hours armed with a full belly, a word of encouragement and prayer, a new saint medal, and the authentic experience of human contact. Perhaps the only people more grateful for the mission than the guests, are the volunteers and friars for having the opportunity to serve.
Volunteers are welcome but must have first participated in the Safe Environment training offered by the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. A link is provided to view a list of training sessions offered.