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O’Malley holds prayer service at shelter

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley received an effusive greeting from Nikita Williams, 48, yesterday. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley received an effusive greeting from Nikita Williams, 48, yesterday. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Christopher J. Girard
Globe Correspondent / December 26, 2010

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Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said a prayer service yesterday morning at St. Francis House, giving his Christmas Day blessings to men and women gathered at the downtown Boston shelter.

“Christmas proclaims that compassion and forgiveness are not only possible, but necessary,’’ O’Malley told the group of about 20 attendees in a small room on the fourth floor of the shelter.

Downstairs, about 30 volunteers went to work at 9 a.m. to help feed about 600 expected guests, said Karen LaFrazia, the executive director of St. Francis House.

“What we do today is what we do every day,’’ LaFrazia said. “Providing our guests with unconditional love and respect.’’

The volunteers prepared 260 pounds of ham, 50 apple pies, and 160 pounds of broccoli and mashed potatoes for the 11:30 a.m. meal, according to a statement from the shelter. The shelter “relies heavily’’ on The Greater Boston Food Bank, LaFrazia said, but also buys much of the food it serves.

Although the Bay State’s unemployment rate, 8.2 percent in November, is lower than the national average of 9.8 percent, the feast for Boston’s needy comes near the end of a brutal economic year for many Massachusetts residents.

Before the meal, guests were waiting in the lobby and outside on Boylston Street.

“They’re all very helpful here,’’ said Kevin Dunn of Dorchester, who was waiting for the meal.

Nikita Williams, 48, hugged O’Malley, and the two conversed.

In an interview, Williams said he has frequented St. Francis House since he was disabled in 1999 in an industrial accident.

“The volunteers here show us all kinds of respect,’’ said William Conard of Boston, 72.

Robin Berry said this is her fourth straight Christmas volunteering at the shelter with her family. Two other family members joined Berry, who had driven in from Saugus. “We felt Christmas was getting too commercial, and we wanted to help bring back the true holiday spirit,’’ said Berry, 59.

In an interview after the service, O’Malley said families everywhere are struggling.

“We need places like St. Francis House and the Pine Street Inn to help provide the community with the kind of help they need, and we need government to do more to provide housing,’’ O’Malley said. “We need to change history. We need to make room for everyone so no one has to live outside.’’