Yamil Sanchez felt an emotional effect reading four names in his petition at the Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service for Remembrance & Recommitment at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Nov. 26.
Anthony Manson, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, Chuen Kowk and Florencio Moran Camano were homeless men beaten to death in the Chinatown section of Manhattan Oct. 5. They were prayerfully remembered at the service as were all homeless people living in New York City.
“When I was reading those names, I took it to heart,” said Yamil, a senior at La Salle Academy in Manhattan. “To be here today with the cardinal and mayor, I think this is a very important matter that we have to definitely discuss.
“It definitely shows (the religious leaders and mayor) care if they’re here at this service for homelessness. If you would ask any New Yorker about homelessness in New York, every day, unfortunately, we see the homeless in the subways and on the streets. It’s so sad. That’s why I appreciate all these people came today.”
Cardinal Dolan hosted the prayer service attended by 500 people. Religious leaders at the service included fellow members of the Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City. Also participating were archdiocesan leaders such as Auxiliary Bishop John O’Hara; Msgr. Robert Ritchie, rector of the cathedral; and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese.
Cardinal Dolan offered a welcome to everyone at the service.
“We’re here to pray for, to advocate for and to be in solidarity with our beloved homeless population, and in a particular way with the four who have lost their lives as homeless people,” Cardinal Dolan said. “They have names. They have parents. They have family. They are made in God’s image and likeness.”
Cardinal Dolan read the names of the four victims before concluding, “We pray for them as well as for all of our homeless. We are glad you are here to pray with us.”
Bishop Victor Brown, senior pastor of Mount Sinai Christian Church on Staten Island, delivered the invocation. Readings followed from Hebrew scripture by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis; the New Testament by Rev. Que English, senior pastor of the Bronx Christian Fellowship Church; and the Quran by Imam Dr. Tahir Kukiqi of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center on Staten Island.
James Addison delivered a personal testimony about being homeless before learning he was going to be a grandfather at age 38 helped him to get his life in order. He was assisted at Life Experience and Faith Sharing Associates (LEFSA) and Catholic Charities Education Outreach Program. Addison is now LEFSA’s operations manager.
“I’m so grateful to get this opportunity to share with you all about some of my life, but I know there are a lot more James Addisons out there on the street,” Addison said.
“It’s going to be up to all of us to make a difference. There are programs out there that are helping (the homeless). Donate to these programs so that people don’t have to die on the streets anymore. We can make a difference.”
Before Auxiliary Bishop James Massa of the Diocese of Brooklyn delivered the closing prayer, Mayor Bill de Blasio gave thanks for the united religious leaders making a difference in New York, inspiring stories like James Addison’s and people who make it their life’s work to help the homeless. Over the last few years, 2,200 New Yorkers have accepted shelter and not returned to the streets, Mayor de Blasio said.
“Every individual who ended up on the streets, every one of them has a story, every one of them fell down for a reason,” the mayor said. “It is our job to pick them back up, to find that pathway back because it can happen for anyone if we are there for them.”
The scope of the problem remains daunting. An August tally of homeless people in New York City showed 61,000 living in shelters each night, according to a report published by the Washington Post.
Emmanuel Uzobuife, a sophomore at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, was one of six Hayes students at the service. He said he hopes to make a difference in his community.
“I hope to inspire my other Hayes brothers to give even more to the Thanksgiving food drive that we do and help those who are homeless, sick and hungry this Thanksgiving and this upcoming Christmas,” he said.
Tyrell Scott, a senior at Moore Catholic High School, one of 14 students from the Staten Island school attending, took home an important message. “We can all connect from different backgrounds and cultures,” he said.