Kensington Avenue and the surrounding area is drug central on the eastern seaboard and in America. It is an extraordinary experience to drive on Kensington Avenue from Frankford Avenue to Lehigh Avenue and beyond. The tourist (and I do not take the term lightly) will see many wonders: tent encampments; drug users injecting themselves with syringes; people dancing various bizarre movements, some in the way of traffic; police on bicycles and in cruisers; ambulances shrieking up and down the thoroughfare; dealers on the corners; trash heaped on the streets; people comatose on the sidewalks, etc. Death stalks Kensington like an avenging angel. It is an aspect of America that many would be shocked to see.
Only a few weeks ago a woman with her laundry basket was crossing the street in front of me with a syringe needle tucked on her ear lobe like men do with cigarettes. Drug use and abuse are out in the open. The police do not have sufficient resources to wage an effective battle against this terrible plague, though they are to be commended for what they do to ameliorate an awful situation.
On the Avenue are many help organizations like the Blessed Sarnelli Community that serves five meals a week and provides a clothing room for the poor and addicts of the area. Sarnelli House also reaches out with spiritual (Christian) solace.
The glorified Christ can be found everywhere, even on the streets of Kensington. The Church is there to offer the sinner forgiveness of sin and a new life through Jesus Christ. Individuals can be turned around in the most hopeless of situations. Many persons testify to their freedom from drug and alcohol use. Some celebrate freedom from dependency for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more years
Mission Youth, a Roman Catholic organization of active young people, has worked at the House. These exemplary young people also take time to walk down the Avenue to witness to Christ and His love. Hardly any greater challenge can be experienced than revealing Christ in a place that evokes in me thoughts of Dante’s Inferno–souls trapped in what appears to be a “No Exit” environment of punishment and judgment. Yet, Kensington is not hell, only a pale similitude of it. It is a place where Christian witness is Light in darkness (there is no Christian witness in hell), just as in all other parts of the world, but with a concentration of darkness not known everywhere.
I found myself feeling two conflicting emotions in my work at Sarnelli House: anger and compassion. Anger at the sheer folly of drug use and the behavior it produces, and compassion for people suffering deeply. In witness to those on the street and in the dinner line, compassion must win the day. Anger must be controlled–Christ in His teachings does not show favor to human anger–but strength in the face of evil (drug use) must also manifest itself. Proper bearing is a difficult accomplishment in a situation wrought with so much darkness. Christ is the Lord. His wrath and judgment are aspects of His nature,; but, we are not permitted the same. We must exert discipline so that what comes across are both compassion and resolve not to be manipulated, both of which reveal personal strength whose ultimate origin is in God. God will judge; we all will be judged. God will save. May we be participants in Christ’s salvation.
More about Kensington next time.
September 25, 2023
Saint Sergius of Radonezh