Santa brings comfort and joy


As a stand-in for Santa, Fr. Saleem Amir, OFM, is a little on the slim side. But that doesn’t matter to guests at St. Francis Seraph Soup Kitchen in Over-the-Rhine. They’re here for a Christmas party, and that means a visit from Santa, in this case portrayed by a Pakistani friar wearing a costume so large it threatens to swallow him up.

Do you recognize me? Santa asks the crowd. A fair question, since Saleem has been a regular volunteer for the past few months while he waited for a visa that will allow him to join SJB friars at their missions in Jamaica. Nooooooo, the soup kitchen clients respond in playful unison.

Tuesday’s dinner is special, not only because of Santa. It was prepared, donated and is being served by members of Wise Temple, some of whom have been coming here for decades to give their Christian brethren a break during the holidays.

They’ve done their best to gussy things up, with candy canes strewn on tables topped with paper Christmas trees colored with crayons. This is as festive as it gets for some soup kitchen guests, who tote their belongings in backpacks or nylon bags strapped to carts.

When dinner is served – an aromatic plate of turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes, green beans and applesauce – Santa Saleem roams the rows of cafeteria tables, leaning in close to give hugs or offer a listening ear. Each diner leaves with a welcome gift, a red travel blanket donated to St. Francis Seraph Ministries by Delta Air Lines.

Asked if he’s had practice at this Saleem says, Sure. In Pakistan, they will do this also. Dressed as Santa, friars visit children in slums to bestow similar greetings. I’m here bringing wishes for Christmas and New Year’s blessings, they will tell the kids.

Wherever he appears, Saleem says, Santa is a good soul.

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