Jamil Abdallah left his home in Allston to take care of his girlfriend, who struggled to even feed herself after she got out of the hospital. He was with her a long time, he said.

Being away from his residence for months, “they interpreted that as home abandonment. Went to court,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “Boom, I was out.”

Abdallah, soft-spoken at 66, said he subsequently became homeless, which is why he has been staying at the Pine Street Inn for more than half a year.

He was one of many guests served Christmas Eve lunch by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley at Boston’s best-known shelter, which reaches almost 2,000 men and women each day.


The Catholic prelate donned a Pine Street Inn apron over his traditional brown habit, quietly waited in line with other volunteers to get plates of food, and then delivered glazed ham, roasted sweet potatoes, and veggies to homeless people sitting in a high-ceilinged room decorated for the holiday.

“Christmas, of course, is remembrance of Christ coming into our world,” O’Malley told reporters. “Our God wanted to be close to us. And when he did that, he came as a homeless person. And there was no room at the inn.”

The cardinal said it’s important to draw attention to the problem of homelessness — and the intersecting challenges: “Our care for the mentally ill, the inability of someone who is earning a minimum wage to find affordable housing, problems with addiction, income inequality.”

And it’s key for all of us to “open our hearts and our lives to our brothers and sisters who are living on the streets and suffering,” he said, not just at Christmas but all year long.

Pine Street Inn offers permanent and emergency housing, job training, and street outreach to men and women. Lyndia Downie, Pine Street Inn’s president, said the Christmas season is often a particularly tough time for the organization’s guests. But, she said, a visit from O’Malley coupled with a surge of volunteers help.


“Just having volunteers here that are going to be kind and just show you some patience and kindness and get you out of the day-to-day grind that is homelessness, it actually does make a difference,” she said.

Among the many volunteers serving homeless people Sunday was state Representative Aaron Michlewitz, a North End Democrat whose district includes the Pine Street Inn.

“This is the time of the year when everyone is needing a little bit extra help,” he said.

As homeless men finished their holiday meals and left, others rotated in. One person waiting for a seat was 51-year-old Brian Dyer, a Brighton native who has been at Pine Street for about 14 months after struggling with substance abuse problems.

Being in the shelter on Christmas brings mixed emotions, Dyer said.

“You’re glad you have a place to stay, but you’re looking back on your life and you wish you had made better decisions,” he said. “When you’re 51 and you’re here, obviously you made the wrong choices at a certain point in your life. But it’s not too late to turn the ship around.”

A key ingredient, Dyer said: “Faith.”

Meanwhile, on Saturday, O’Malley — who has been grappling in recent days with the fallout from the death of his predecessor, Bernard Law — released his annual Christmas message.


While the world is “distracted by all the noise and many of the symbols of Christmas that have become devoid of meaning,” the cardinal said, there is a powerful message in the holiday.

“The prince of peace is coming,” he said. “He comes in the face of a little child because God wanted us to see that his love is always new, always fresh, never tired of loving us, never tired of forgiving us, never tired of giving us another chance even when we have given up on ourselves.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.