ST. BONIFACE — The keynote speaker for St. Boniface Diocesan Council 67th annual convention was Deacon Doug Cross of St. Bernadette Parish. Cross is a retired police officer who spent most of his career in the core area of Winnipeg or in the north end. His preaching is peppered with tales of his experience of the streets and his ability to see beyond the marginalized individual to the person God created, and how his faith has affected his approach to his job and his life. He is also part of the Faith and Light community in Winnipeg and is chaplain for Faith and Light English Canada.
He started his presentation by indicating that this year is the Extraordinary Year of Mercy and asking, “What does it mean? You talk around it, you talk about failing, you talk about ways to understand it.”
Cross offered two things Jesus said: “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and soul, and to love one another as I have loved you” (Mk 12). He presented a way to understand that mercy is not about talking about what has been done or not been done in the past, but about what is yet to be done.
“Our mission is to love God and his people,” Cross said. “Mercy is a way of living out that love. It’s a chance to reach into ourselves and remove those barriers that keep us from loving other people the way we are called to, the ones who keep us from loving the way Jesus loves us.”
He went on to ask the delegates if they had an image of what Jesus looks like. “I am going to show you my image of Jesus. This an image that has been chosen to remind me of who I am, who I am supposed to be, and that I’m called to love everyone, no matter what they look like.”
After the image was unveiled, Cross related the qualities of a certain man he has known for some 40 years. During this time, he picked him up when he was hurt or sick and took him to the hospital and also put him in jail and the drunk tank. He has also sat down with him for coffee and shared a meal. Cross said, “He has taught me much.”
The man was not physically attractive: he was usually dirty and smelly or intoxicated or belligerent, and frequently homeless. He has mental health issues, and can be violent at times. Cross said that when we see him on the street, we don’t see him; we turn our heads and hurry past, hoping he’s not going to bother us.
Cross said, “Have you noticed the one really important thing that I didn’t mention? His name is Roger. He is a person. He is a person that Jesus loved and he is a person that we are called to love. How are we called to love him? As Jesus loves us — totally, unrestrictedly.
“Over and over again through many years with people on the streets, with people in poverty, people who have addictions, people who are not able to get along with other people, who steal, who sell drugs, who hurt their loved ones, who are sick or hurt or dying or have a disability, who are just lonely — there is one thing I’ve heard over and over: see me. Know that I’m a person, that I exist. People really appreciate all the things we give them, but if we give them without loving them, if we can’t see that that’s a person at the other end, we’ve got a problem.”