Ten-thirty p.m. in East Oakland. Sirens and gunshots, the soundtrack of this stretch of Fruitvale Avenue, punctuate the air. Dozens of homeless people are gathered beneath a street lamp - some in wheelchairs, some drunk, some ranting furiously to themselves.The Preacherman, Vincent Pannizzo, does give what food and comfort he has to give at the end of the service:
Then the Preacherman appears.
"What are we here for, brothers and sisters?" the 39-year-old man with the neatly trimmed beard calls out quietly as he takes a spot beneath the lamp. He slowly pulls a small Bible from the pocket of his paint-spattered sweatshirt.
"To pray with you," a few call back. "Thank God you're here," others say. Some bow their heads and clench their eyes shut. Most simply stand and wait, silent.
"Amen," the Preacherman says. He opens the book.
And then, for the next half hour, there is church in the street at the corner of Foothill and Coolidge, where the homeless and even many criminals don't usually hang out this late at night.
After 30 minutes, Pannizzo handed out a few dollars to each - about $50 total, from a deck-rebuild job that day - blankets and food. Then the homeless disappeared to their sleeping places. Pannizzo set off for his camp.Let me just repeat that last little bit -- "But what really matters is what he says to us." Kind of makes me think of:
"I don't expect people to become saints listening to me," he said as he watched his flock shuffle off. "I just hope they walk away with seeds in them that someday will flower. I want them to live better lives."
It's not the spare change or the food that draws the crowd, his followers insist. It's the message: Love each other, abandon drugs and booze, don't despair in your poverty, keep faith in God, respect authority, try to lift yourself up. Don't judge each other.
"He is our lifesaver, the only thing that keeps us from going crazy out here," said Jerry Serrano, 37, who sleeps in alleyways. "The fact that he's homeless like us - that makes him real. But what really matters is what he says to us.
Matthew 4:2-4Where Jesus cites:
2After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."
4Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Deut. 8:3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.