A cop finds the Cross on the streets of New York

Larry DePrimo couldn’t have predicted the attention he’d get over what might seem a rather simple act of kindness. On Nov. 14th, the 25-year-old NYPD cop found a panhandler going barefooted on a frigid New York night and decided to buy him a new pair of $100 boots. The moment was captured on camera by an Arizona cop visiting the Big Apple, and the photo quickly went viral on Facebook with nearly a million “likes” and “shares”.

It’s just the kind of heartwarming story people love to hear this time of year, isn’t it?


But was it too good to be true? It appears many of those inspired by the story were quickly jaded when news reports in the last day revealed the panhandler was not in fact homeless, and has a history of arrests for lewdness, assault, and possessing a controlled substance. He was also spotted after the fact still walking barefoot.

“That’s exactly why I don’t give money to beggars,” I can hear people saying. Doesn’t it just fit that typical image of the panhandler running off with his pocket change to buy booze and drugs?

I know I’ve struggled with jadedness myself about giving to panhandlers after a couple instances when I knew someone had taken advantage of my generosity.

But I was struck recently by a story about Bishop Fulton Sheen. It was related by his niece Joan Sheen Cunningham in a September interview with Catholic World Report:

Since he was known for his generosity, people would often come up to ask him for money, telling him how they were down on their luck. He’d hand them $20. I’d ask him, “How do you know that they’re not putting you on; that they really need help?”

He’d answer, “I can’t take the chance.”

Obviously we don’t want to be giving money to someone who we know will misuse it. That’s irresponsible. But shouldn’t we give people the benefit of the doubt?

The Catholic Church has a long tradition of giving to beggars. I think of St. Francis of Assisi selling off his father’s expensive fabrics to give the money to the poor, or St. Martin of Tours cutting his cloak in two to clothe a beggar. The lives of the saints are filled with these kinds of tales.

I also think about the spiritual counsel of mystics like the Servant of God Catherine Doherty, who founded Madonna House, an apostolate dedicated to the poor. Her Little Mandate, which she believed to be inspired, opens by saying: “Arise — go! Sell all you possess. Give it directly, personally to the poor.”

Of course, any time we give something of ourselves to another person, there’s a vulnerability there. We take the risk that they are going to reject us. I’m sure the saints struggled with the same issue; I can’t see it being a new problem.

During my undergrad at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, I took an excellent course on Bl. John Paul II’s theology of the body taught by the parish priest. One class we were talking about human relationships and how love, both in and outside of marriage, involves a mutual self-gift: I give myself to you and you give yourself to me, in one sense or another depending on the type of relationship.

“But,” asked one of the students, “what happens when one person makes that gift to the other person, reaches out to them, and the other person just totally rejects it?”

“Well, that’s the Cross,” the priest said.

Christ, the God of the universe, gave Himself to us when he deigned to become just a little piece of His creation. He gave Himself, as we read in today’s Gospel reading at Mass, in healing the lame and the blind, and then feeding the four thousand.

And then what did we do? We crucified Him. The mystery of the Cross is that it was in our very rejection of Him that Christ finally poured out His whole life for us.

I don’t know officer Larry DePrimo. I don’t know the barefooted panhandler or why he’s still going around without boots. But if Mr. DePrimo was betrayed, if his gift was rejected to use instead for ill purposes, then I’d say on some level he’s had an encounter with the Cross.

So I’m getting some grocery store gift cards. Next time I meet a beggar, presuming there’s no solid reason to doubt his motives, I will offer what I can, pray for him, and leave it in God’s hands. If he misuses the gift, well, that’s the Cross.

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14 comments on “A cop finds the Cross on the streets of New York

  1. Cheryl Grandy says:

    Thank you for this inspiring article, Patrick.

    • Patrick Craine says:

      My pleasure. Thanks for the read and the comment Cheryl! God bless.

      • johnk says:

        The giving of a gift helps the giver at least as much as the recipient. After all it is not how much you receive in life, it is how much you give. And I am an atheist.

  2. Ed Mullen says:

    We are definitely called to give without double-think. If we just give, or if we offer a beggar opportunity to explain why he needs money before giving, that’s fine, but to assume that he’s a cynical begging ‘business’ fraud, without a conversation or prior knowledge, is wrong. If we know, because we see him walking without a limp to his station at a familiar intersection, and see him limping pitifully while on ‘duty’ day after day, we know he’s a begging business rather than a needy person. My opinion is that we should not give to ‘begging business’ fraudsters.

  3. Tina G says:

    I think that is a great way to look at it! The blessing comes in the giving… What someone does with your gift is irrelevant. Because someone abuses your generosity does not mean you should stop giving.

    Many homeless people have mental problems and illnesses; you can never stop trying to help them because the one time you decide not to help may be the one time they would have decided to accept that help… and we can NEVER stop trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth. It is the calling of all of us!

  4. Ellen says:

    Our parish priest had an arraingement with one of the local gas stations and a grocery store too. When someone asked for money for gas or food, he’d give them a voucher and then settle up with the stores at the end of the month.

  5. Jennifer Olson says:

    Thank you! I really needed to learn this. I will bear my cross next time.

  6. kelso says:

    Thanks. Good post. Some saint said: “Charity sees the need not the cause.” The man did have “huge blisters” the policeman said. I have always objected (easy for me to say) when someone says: “I give them a candy bar, not money.” — as if that is some kind of sacrifice to boast of. What the “media” should have done here is to follow up and get the man into a hospice. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg could have parted with a bit of his 8 billion and opened up a hospice or two or three, instead of cutting off donated food to charity kitchens from restaurants, bakeries, etc. because the food wasn’t yet “inspected.” Too busy giving funds to Planned Parenthood, I suppose, or the un-hygenic disease-ridden lifestyles of “gay” activists.

  7. Father Thomas Murphy LC says:

    Great article! Like Tina G says, I also think it’s important not to forget that Larry DePrimo’s generosity toward that man lost none of its eternal value in God’s eyes, independently of how that man responded to his act of charity.

    • Joseph says:

      And that his actions touched thousands of others. Even if there are jaded people from watching the whole event, they received a gift of role model in kindness and they can reject it by being jaded if they choose. But others saw that and are thinking about being kind themselves. That is also a gift, unintentional, but made possible by the officer’s actions.

  8. Bumpy187 says:

    I suffered from addiction for most of my adult life. The last thing an addict needs is money to support his habit…it’s also the FIRST thing he needs. Addicts are in the grip of horrible circumstance, yes by their own doing, but still helpless to that addiction. Not giving them money in some vain attempt to take a higher moral ground is a moot point: an addict will ONLY be healed when he/she is ready…when he hits bottom. Only when HE is ready, and only he decides…no one else, will he /she rise again from the ashes of that horrible slavery. I give without thinking without a problem…if they spend it on drugs and booze….fine…that is what they need at the time. Or just buy them food.

  9. daisy says:

    Dont’ give out gift cards. It will probably get you cursed at if not worse. Give a dollar of skip it.

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