From the Knights of Columbus magazine Columbia:

No food. No money. No phone. A group of 26 men — including 22 members of the Knights of Columbus — hit the Austin streets in an elemental manner. For three days and two nights in March, they set aside comforts, carrying only a backpack with toiletries, medicine and a sleeping bag. They slept outdoors and made cardboard signs to beg for money to buy food.

The first such “street retreat” took place in 2003, organized by Alan Graham, a member of St. John Neumann Council 10836 in Austin and founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a nonprofit serving the city’s homeless. Since 2006, this retreat experience has become an annual rite of passage required of all candidates enrolled in the diaconate formation program in the Diocese of Austin.

“When men follow the words of Jesus to take ‘no food, no sack, no money in their belts’ (Mk 6:8), we have found that a great outpouring of grace takes place in their lives,” explained Deacon Guadalupe Rodriguez, associate director of the formation program and a member of St. Mary Cathedral Council 14055 in Austin.

Together with a team of three other permanent deacons, Rodriguez ate, slept and begged alongside the candidates, shepherding them through the long hours in which the men saw life from a new perspective.

“Rejection after rejection after rejection — everybody walks past. It was very saddening that so many people did not care.”

“A lot of these men are very successful engineers, doctors, lawyers,” explained Rodriguez, who has helped organize the retreats since 2013. “But on the streets they learn to be very vulnerable, to depend on the Lord.”

The men began each day with Mass at St. Mary Cathedral and then fanned out to intersections with their handmade cardboard signs. They met with people living in “tent cities” and ate most meals at a homeless shelter. The group also spent time together talking about their experiences and praying during a daily Holy Hour. At 10 p.m. each night they evangelized by handing out rosaries and pamphlets in Austin’s busy entertainment district.

The sting of casual dismissal was the toughest part of the weekend for Robert Tavarez, a charter member of St. Vincent de Paul Council 13927 in Austin.

“Rejection after rejection after rejection — everybody walks past,” Tavarez said, describing his experience panhandling as well as attempting to share the faith and hand our rosaries. “It was very saddening that so many people did not care.”

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