When I was still a young man, I knew an old man, but I never learned his name. Everyone just called him Pops. He was a gentle man. He lived on the streets of Philadelphia. Most who would encounter him would think he was mentally ill, because he seemed too content and entirely too happy for a homeless person to be, or for any sane person in these days, almost. He would say, “Just trust Jesus.” And on many occasions, he would offer a cross necklace. The cross was made out of copper wire that he had salvaged and stripped, then formed into a cross. The necklace was salvaged sash cord.
Pops made a little money by recycling. He had a shopping cart to collect littered aluminum cans and other scrap. Demolition crews would have him climb in to do the real dirty work on jobs in exchange for some of the recyclable metal and all of the wire. Recyclers didn’t pay much for wire, unless it was stripped. Pops cashed in the other metal, but stripped the wire and made crosses out of it. This was his ministry; his witness.
Over the years, Pops gave me four crosses. I passed three of them on to others and kept one for myself. Alex Smerkanich, my Godfather, gave me a gold cross and chain when I was chrismated in 1999. I lost that a few years later one winter’s evening while serving among the homeless. So I had the cross that Pops made blessed on the altar, and that is what I wear most of the time.
Pops eventually got Alzheimer’s disease. He lived with that on the street. There were a group of four other men who looked after him, while they were living in crates in an alley under a parking ramp. They had amazing sensitivity and compassion. Pops passed away about ten years ago. I wear this Cross because it reminds me that we are all salvaged from the dumpster. There are no throwaway people in God’s eyes. I wear this Cross in memory of Pops and in thanks for those who ministered to him. I wear this Cross in remembrance of all the homeless, and the imprisoned, and the aborted, the discriminated against, all “the throw aways” of this world.
I am in the process of replacing the outdated wiring in my house. I am stripping the old wire and making Crosses just like Pops’ and giving them away. I pray for who they are for as I make them. I made the first eight of them on Great Friday and Great Saturday. May it be blessed.