His Holiness the Dalai Lama was trying very hard on Sunday to make the homeless guests at Martin’s soup kitchen relax.
He put on a red and yellow tie-dyed apron to serve up the first plates of pesto pasta. He cracked jokes about what a relief it was to be among rich people who hang on his every word. He broke bread with seven down-and-out men, telling stories and making fun of his English — or lack thereof.
Finally, the head of Tibet’s government-in-exile said: “You know, I’m homeless too.”
He was on the second day of a weekend swing through the San Francisco Bay area to talk peace and call attention to the plight of the US’ poor. His visit was arranged by The Forgotten International, a nonprofit that promotes helping the world’s poorest people, was two years in the making.
Tom Nazario, the founder of Forgotten International, blamed bureaucratic red tape.
“He has wanted to do this for some time,” Nazario said.
The Dalai Lama beamed and grinned impishly throughout his hour-long visit to Martin’s — formally, Martin de Porres House of Hospitality — rooted in the Catholic Worker movement.
“I’m really happy for the opportunity to visit,” he said, offering words of encouragement to the approximately 100 guests and volunteers at the Sunday lunch.
“Our lives depend on others,” the Dalai Lama said. “Me too. My life depends on others. You are still in human society, human community. Please feel happy and feel dignity.”
The guests included some of San Francisco’s most desperate citizens, men and women who carry their life’s possessions in shopping carts and sleep under bridges.
“I told him that everything I’m wearing — from the suit to the earrings — I found in the trash,” said Armando Martinez, 44, who wore a three-piece suit and beads.
Ambbeei Hall, a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran and practicing Buddhist, said the Dalai Lama tried hard to make everyone laugh.
“When he brought up [former US president] George [W.] Bush,” Hall said, “I couldn’t hold it.”
As it happened, someone at the Dalai Lama’s lunch table asked whether he had met US President Barack Obama. He said he would meet with him in October, then recalled Bush.
“I love him,” the Dalai Lama said of the ex-president. “But some of his policies ... ”