Boy Scouts from Troop 106 stood in their uniforms outside the doors of St. Peter and St. Paul churches in St. Cloud April 2-3 and handed out fliers — not for a parish event or fundraiser, but to raise awareness about a work of mercy that benefits people in need around the world.
The Central Minnesota Council of the Boy Scouts of America has partnered with an organization named Soles4Souls to provide people in the United States and around the globe with one of their most basic needs — shoes.
According to the Soles4Souls website, 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, and 400 million of those are children. They can’t afford even one pair of shoes and, as a result, children are prevented form going to school and adults to work. They also risk injury and disease from walking barefoot.
“The Boy Scouts do community service projects so that the Scouts are thinking about giving back to the community for everything that they have,” said Dale Blommel, chair of the parent committee for Troop 106. “We do projects around our community, but with this you really get to outreach and you can touch people, not only here in St. Cloud or Stearns County or Minnesota, but around the world.”
Scout Matthew Muehlbauer, a member of St. Paul Parish, is helping coordinate the project for Troop 106 and spoke to parishioners during the Saturday evening Mass at his parish.
“People need shoes to protect their feet,” he said. “As Catholics, especially during the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has called us to do acts of love, kindness and generosity. This is certainly an act of kindness for people in need.”
The project started in early March, and shoes are being collected until April 16 with a goal of 25,000 pairs.
According to Bob Rueter, district director, troops will bring what they collect to the council office in Sartell or to Camp Ripley for the annual Ripley Rendezvous April 22-24.
The Scout Council is coordinating a transport trailer to transport the shoes to Soles4Souls’ headquarters in Tennessee, he said.
Once there, the shoes are sorted by quality. New and high quality shoes are immediately distributed to people in need. Those that are lower quality are distributed to micro-enterprise programs in developing countries such as Haiti, Tanzania, and Honduras, giving people in those countries an opportunity to run their own business and make a living. The micro-enterprise participants clean and recondition the shoes to sell locally. Shoes in very poor condition are recycled.
Since 2006, Soles4Souls has distributed 26 million pairs of shoes in 127 countries, including the U.S., according to the organization’s website.
“With this year being the Year of Mercy hopefully that causes us all — individually and as groups or organizations — to think about how we can be more considerate of others in our daily lives,” Rueter said.
“This is twofold because we’re in scouting and doing service — ‘a Scout is reverent’ is the 12th point of the Scout Law — and we want to continue to give back. So this fits a lot of the criteria that Scouting is about. We’re excited about the opportunity to see how this works.”
Troop 106 will be collecting shoes through Sunday, April 16. Collection boxes are located at St. Peter and St. Paul churches, as well as at the council office at 1191 Scout Drive, Sartell.
What does the church say about clothing the naked?
The corporal work of mercy that bids us to clothe the naked is, of course, derived from Matthew 25:36, the familiar account of the Last Judgment, which in turn is rooted in Jesus’ Jewish heritage.
One can even make the case that so fundamental is the need for clothing that God himself provides it for Adam and Eve before he banishes them from the Garden of Eden.
Clothing provides protection from the elements and dignity in safeguarding modesty. In most societies it also carries enormous importance by conveying cultural values, identity, expression and even status. Which of these we are called to address in providing clothing for the naked can be debated. Nevertheless, the call remains.
St. Basil the Great, a fourth-century doctor of the church, said quite frankly in his “Sermon to the Rich”: “The coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it.”
I must admit that the thought makes me squirm a bit: There’s more than one unused coat hanging in our hall closet alone (not to mention the storeroom, the garage or any of our bedroom closets!).
St. Basil’s assertion echoes a principle in Catholic teaching known as the universal destination of material goods. This centuries-old truth can be summed up in this way: The right of private ownership is subordinate to the right of everyone to benefit from the goods of the earth.
This principle can be traced through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, the writings of the early Church Fathers (among them Clement of Alexandria and Ambrose) and of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the social encyclicals dating back to 1891 (“Rerum Novarum”).
The Second Vatican Council reiterated this teaching in the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” and, most recently, Pope Francis endorsed it in “Laudato Si’.”
Of course, the teaching is not without its opponents, particularly those who see it as a pathway to socialism. While this caution is perhaps valid, the spirit of the teaching, and our spiritual disposition in receiving it and carrying it out, are what determine its place in the Christian life.
If we are honest, we must admit that most of what we “possess” is God’s gift to us. Yes, we may have worked at a job, earned money and purchased these possessions, but the job, and even the education or skills that enable us to do it, are all gifts from our generous God.
We don’t know the circumstances that lead to a needy person’s lack of clothing, and we are commanded by Jesus not to judge (Matthew 7:1). What we do know, however, is that in clothing the naked, we are clothing the very Lord whose name we bear as Christians.
Maureen Otremba is a writer and workshop presenter and is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids
Clothe the Naked
For an online lesson regarding this work of mercy, visit http://stcloudvisitor.org/year-of-mercy and click on “catechetical resources.” The “clothe the naked” installment includes a video and prayer, reflection questions and suggested activities.