MIAMI — After the city of Miami issued a violation to the Missionaries of Charity for “operating a business without a license,” a lawyer providing legal support said he is confident the city will withdraw the notice.
“The city has full knowledge” of the sisters’ work and has given them “numerous approvals over the years,” attorney Tom Equels told Catholic News Agency April 4.
“Sometimes they forget, so I’m going to do my best to remind them.”
On March 20, inspector Cornellius Pierre of Miami issued a notice of violation to “Missionaries of Charity, Inc.” for “failure to obtain a valid certificate of use for the type of business being conducted.”
The notice stated that if the “violation” was not corrected by April 1 that the sisters would face fines of up to $100 a day for each day the “violation” went uncorrected.
“It’s hard to say what the equivalent is, but picking on these humble nuns is a mistake,” Equels said.
The Missionaries of Charity have been ministering to the area’s poorest of the poor since 1980, when Mother Teresa established a branch of her community in Miami.
“At the time,” said Equels, who had just graduated from law school at the time and began serving as president of the Catholic lawyers’ guild for the Archdiocese of Miami, “it was an urban wasteland.”
The only buildings of “substance” in the area were the public hospital, Jackson Memorial, and the county jail.
Since then, the University of Miami Medical Center and Jackson Memorial Hospital have expanded operations and acquired more properties in the area.
“Now the fact that the property has, over these 30 years, become quite valuable doesn’t change the fact that there’s still a substantial homeless population in that area,” he said.
Three times a morning, the sisters open their kitchen for those who need food to “come eat without restriction.” In the evening, the sisters operate a shelter for mothers and their children.
When Equels investigated the situation, he found that similar threats were made to the sisters in the past, but that they were all dismissed when the city verified that the shelter was indeed operating as a charitable, nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the poor.
“Miami is a very Catholic city, where people of all faiths and denominations have the greatest respect for the Sisters of Charity,” he explained, “and at the end of the day the people will not tolerate what is being done here to these holy nuns.”
Equels has supplied the documents verifying that the Missionaries of Charity have the right to use their building to serve food to the poor and is confident the violation notice will be withdrawn.
The attorney says one of his duties is “to defend convents” because he was named a papal knight of St. Gregory by Pope Benedict XVI.
“This probably falls under one of those ancient obligations of a papal knight that don’t get called upon anymore,” he said. “I personally am very honored to be able to help them because they give so much and do so much for this community for nothing.”
He added, “When you see what they do and how they live, you understand that there is a way for us to walk the path that Jesus set up for us at the very beginning.”