What did this Archbishop learn from selling a street paper?

The Archbishop of Salzburg stepped into the shoes of a vendor recently when he became a guest seller for his local street paper Apropos. Franz Lackner took to the streets of Salzburg, in Austria, to sell So viele Wege [So Many Paths], a special edition book produced by Apropos which tells the life stories of 32 vendors. He reflects on the experience.

Bishop Franz Lackner makes a sale

By Franz Lackner, Archbishop of Salzburg

Interest, rejection, amazement, avoidance, excuses… I received a myriad of reactions the first time I helped out Apropos as a street paper vendor. To mark the opening day of the Offenen Himmel [Spirits for a New World] festival, I sold So viele Wege, a book produced by Apropos in which 32 vendors describe their paths in life. Falling down, getting up, moving on – this is the central theme of the book. It contains very moving stories, told bluntly and honestly, and offers an insight into the experiences of vendors while doing this kind of work.

Even though I knew I was doing something good – drawing attention to an important project – it still isn’t easy approaching people and asking them to buy something. The real challenge was to take heart and expose myself to the reactions of passers-by.

What does the other person feel? In what mood will I encounter them? You learn to read faces quickly and sense a person’s attitude ahead of time. Accordingly, I noticed that I behaved very differently: I was loud or retiring, approached people or just waited.

The most heart-warming aspect of this experience was meeting people and starting up a conversation with them. Many familiar faces were amazed at my new ‘job’, but they all were happy to buy the book.

Archbishop Franz Lackner with the Apropos team [l-r - Michaela Gründler, Peter Ofonedu, Friday Akpan, distribution officer Hans Steininger]

But how does it feel when people intentionally look the other way? They were there, too: the gruff passers-by who vanished down a side street. And it was incredible how many people were out and about without money. Those situations demand generosity from the rejected one, require shaking off the injury. But the question remained: why couldn’t I reach them?

I only experienced this once during my time selling the book but how do those people feel, who are out here daily, constantly confronted with rejection? I will answer with a quote from the book:

“I enjoy selling the street paper to caring people. That is always a wonderful experience… but I often suffer when I come off the wrong way and get stuck on my way to approaching people.”

Let’s not get stuck on our way to others. Let’s help them find the courage to carry on.

INSP is currently looking for people to join our team of great fundraisers for #VendorWeek, in February 2016. If you think you could take on the challenge of selling the Big Issue in the UK for an hour – and could raise money to support street paper vendors, please get in touch.