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The Deacon's Bench

Just before Christmas, the New York Times had a terrific piece on the good work being done by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (Fr. Benedict Groeschel’s boys) in the South Bronx.

Take a look:

Hearing a knock at the door, Brother Nicholas White peeked through a small cross-shaped window and opened the door at St. Crispin’s Friary in the South Bronx. On the steps outside, a man stood and asked for a blessing. Without hesitating, Brother Nicholas put his hand on the man’s shoulder, closed his eyes and prayed with him.

The man, Wilbert Barber, who has been a frequent visitor, had been homeless until recently and was now in an apartment paid for with public assistance. “I needed prayer, I needed God’s protection,” said Mr. Barber, 48. “I can’t make it without God.”

Nourishment, spiritual and material, is something that the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have been dispensing since 1987 when a group of friars started the religious community in the South Bronx to serve neighborhoods with a variety of problems.

The order has grown steadily, attracting men from across the country willing to give up material possessions and devote their lives to prayer and charity. The order now has 120 friars and 14 friaries worldwide.

Brother Nicholas, 32, is from Ohio, and has been in the South Bronx for more than a year. He has a close-cropped head and a red beard, and wears a gray robe with a hood, sandals and a wooden cross attached to rosary beads that hang from a rope tied around his waist.

The friars, who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, spend four to five hours a day praying and most of the rest of their time trying to help the poor. They depend almost entirely on donations to support themselves and their charities, which include a homeless shelter, a youth center and food handouts.

Brother Nicholas was working as an audio engineer when he went through what he described as a religious conversion, a calling to a devout life. While doing research on the Internet he came across the Web site of the Friars of the Renewal.

“I saw a picture of a friar in a beard with his habit on and his hood up and bare feet, sitting on the floor praying the rosary, and I was like: you mean to tell me people are actually doing that?” Brother Nicholas said.

“I was floored,” he added. “I recognized an authenticity that here was a group of men that desired to live the Gospel and nothing more.”

Visit the link for the rest — plus a terrific short video.

Photo: Br. Nicholas, by Christian Hansen for the New York Times
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