Finding Faith Again with LEFSA
Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is Mario and I’m a 54 year old Dominican raised in West Harlem. I met LEFSA while living in the Boulevard Men’s Shelter on Lexington Avenue. Let me say it’s a very dark place, where you’re living in constant fear that you might be the next victim. As for myself, I thought I was caught up in a nightmare that ran 24 hours a day. I had lost interest in life itself and had no hope in sight. I had lost contact with my daughter after my wife of 23 years passed away—that was 8 years ago. I was beating myself up for all my shortcomings.
One day in 2015, as I was sitting in the cafeteria, I saw two people walking in with bright smiles on their faces, asking if I wanted to participate in their group. I agreed. There were three people in that first group and a lot of hecklers on the side making comments. As we got started we sang a song: “Put thee behind;” then a second song, “Victory is Mine.” By the end of the song the cafeteria was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. That goes to show you that positive outweighs negative every time. The last song was “This Little Light of Mine,” and from our little corner we were breaking through a dark cloud. For the next two hours there was peace and bonding with Jesus and clearing your mind from all the negativity around. As the group continued we read scripture and reflected upon the readings. The topic that day was faith. It was like they came there just for me. I was having a hard time with faith, trust and self-esteem. Not to mention depression, homelessness and health issues.
That day opened my eyes and the door to LEFSA. I started to attend men’s meetings, where I was welcomed, and started to meet the rest of the LEFSA family at the team enrichment meetings. But it wasn’t until I went to my first men’s retreat that I felt so comfortable to just let it out, all this baggage that I’ve been carrying around for years. I can tell you there was a lot of tears shed that night. And a lot of care and concern.
The following day I went out to the labyrinth on the grounds, to confront all my shortcomings and leave them behind. I felt so light—not like losing weight, it was my spirit awakening to hope and faith. As I got back to the city, I knew I had a lot of work to do, putting God first to guide me on this journey called life.
After that retreat I became more in touch with God and more involved with LEFSA, and the doors continued to open. I have reunited with my daughter and grandchildren after eight years of no contact. I have also graduated from the Catholic Charities EOP program, which has given me direction and has helped me to build my self-esteem and showed me that I have a lot to contribute. I’m also glad to say that after three years of running from shelter to shelter, as of March 1, 2016 I have a lease and keys to my own apartment.
I can only say that God answers prayers. I know that God heard and answered my LEFSA family’s prayers. I just want to say thanks to my LEFSA family for their care and concern and gentleness when I was fragile, and for opening my eyes to family.