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In soup kitchen, it's not just a meal


Nearly every day for the past 14 years, 57-year-old Alphonso Alvarez has taken a meal with other poor people at Our Daily Bread soup kitchen downtown. The 57-year-old Baltimorean considers himself fortunate.

On Sunday, his good fortune will increase when Pope John Paul II shares a meal of creamed chicken casserole at the Cathedral Street dining hall with Mr. Alvarez and 18 others who in some way depend on Catholic Charities.

"I've been lucky all my life. This is a wonderful thing that this is happening to me," said the former Goodwill Industries worker who lives in a downtown rooming house and has never met anyone even near to famous.

"I'm not rich, but I try to treat people with respect. I'd like to see people do something about this violence," said Mr. Alvarez, who came up in the Pentecostal church and has a deep interest in Buddhism. "With all the crime we've got here, the pope needs to come."

Douglas Tillery has also taken meals at Our Daily Bread since it opened in 1991. Living on public assistance in his own apartment, Mr. Tillery, 45, says that meeting the pope will be another step in the continuing "confirmation" of his faith.

"I know that God intended me to be a spirit-filled Christian and the Holy Spirit wanted me to meet the pope," said the former Marine and correctional officer, who was disabled a decade ago after twice being hit by cars. Raised Baptist in Richmond, Va., he says: "A lot of people don't believe in God. We must have God."

Before sitting down to eat, the pope will personally greet each of the diners. At the table with him will be Cardinal William H. Keeler, Catholic Charities director Hal Smith, and 19 people who receive care, assistance or shelter from a half-dozen programs, like the St. Veronica literacy program in Cherry Hill. Program directors selected the diners and longtime volunteers of Our Daily Bread will serve.

"I'm up on cloud nine," said Mary Agatha Widdows, an 88-year-old member of Our Lady of Victory parish on Wilkens Avenue who spends every Wednesday at the soup kitchen helping to feed the poor. "When you meet someone like this, you're sort of at a loss for words, but I'm sure I'll ask for his blessing."

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