Despite the rains that finally came to the South Bay, a group of over 75 people gathered at the San Jose City Hall on Monday evening for a memorial service for those who had died homeless in San Jose during the past year. The ceremony was sponsored by SiVIC, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council, and SiVIC Board Member Rev. Andrew Bear, a hospice chaplain in the area, welcomed the crowd of religious leaders, congregational members, and the currently homeless and introduced each of the participants in the program.
Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones of the First Unitarian Church of San Jose led in singing “How could anyone ever tell you you were anything less than beautiful,” followed by reflections and a chant by Taresh Parekh and Deven Shah of the Jain Center in Milpitas. Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash followed with the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, and Narinderpal Singh of the San Jose Sikh Gurdwara reminded the group of the oneness of all people.
Further prayers and reflections were given by Rev. Bev Kam of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, Rowan Fairgrove from Covenant of the Goddess, Imam Ahmad Salman of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Milpitas, and Uday Kapoor of the Hindu American Foundation. Deacon Ruben Solorio represented the Catholic Diocese of San Jose, recalling the words of Pope Francis who recently said, “The Son of God came into this world as a homeless person.” He was followed by Venerable JianYing, the Abbot of the Sunnyvale Zen Center, who offered a chant, and Sensei Angie Boissevain of the Floating Zendo who invited those present to be silent for a short while.
The names of the 61 people who had died over the past year, and members of the community shared briefly about those they had known. The evening ended with several Christmas songs performed by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Compassion Relief Choir and a closing blessing by Rev. D. Andrew Kille, the Chair of SiVIC.
Since 1990, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has sponsored National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day every year on the first day of winter, the longest night of the year. This was SiVIC’s second annual interfaith prayer service for those who had died homeless. It serves not only as a memorial, but a call to action on behalf of those who still live without permanent housing. According to current estimates, there are some 4,700 homeless people in San Jose on a given night, approximately 63% of the total for Santa Clara County.