mendicant (pl. mendicants) A pauper who lives by begging. A religious friar, forbidden to own personal property, who begs for a living. Mendicants have pounded the pavements of every city from Ur to New York. They've worshipped many gods and been known by many names: holy man, preacher, heretic, beggar for a start. Whether they're proclaiming the mystery of Isis or the glory of Jesus, you'll still find them dressed in rags, begging for a meal and a bunk, ministering to undesirables and causing a nuisance for whatever authority they're under. New York is in crisis, and the constant of society in crisis is that mendicants multiply: they're doom-sayers, zealots, revolutionaries; in short, a symptom of sick institutions. Also, though, they're the carers, nurses, and faith healers who tend to the spiritual needs of New York's underclass. If you're a criminal or sufficiently freakish to be barred from polite society, mendicants are your last, best hope for salvation – even if they smell. Mendicants operate without the sanction of any official church. They run a spiritual black market which attracts, minimum, contempt from Christian institutions and often outright persecution. Like all black markets, the beggars, gangsters, weirdos and deviants desperate enough to seek out mendicants can't be sure what they're buying. Many mendicants are disaffected Catholic priests, disgusted at the rightward turn of their church, or left-wing pastors driven off by reactionary congregations. Many more are chancers who can do The Voice or write Latin that's right if you squint. A few are true radicals, preaching a gospel of revolution or, worse still, sacrilegious heathen religions. Then there's the usual lunatic dollar-store prophets who believe they're the vanguard of the end times. NYPD, wearing its theologian hat, has found a word to unify this group: 'mendicant.' Mendicants minister to society's unmentionables, they hear confession in nightclubs, administer the last rites in brothels and bless gangsters so long as they can crash on their couch. It might not be a crime to be a mendicant – yet – but their lives are a Public Order Violation writ large. When authorities talk about mendicants (when they absolutely have to), they use the language of vermin: they're pigeons, rats, pests. Like pigeons, a few of them are shitting in Central Park right now and they won't just go away no matter how much poison you put down. Anyone can be a mendicant. Anyone can even become a mendicant – often after a traumatic event or crisis of faith. A few of the most famous – Black Tom, Padre Jacques Roux, Mystic Theodora – have no clerical training to speak of. They're just charismatic enough, lucky enough, or committed enough to still be walking the streets of New York City years after they first broke bread with a down-and-outer. At the more respectable end, left-wing clerics like Father Leclerc and the pastor Joseph Mitchell are sensations in the young field of internet radio, preaching an abnormal reading of the bible, calculated to stay just within the bounds of acceptable discourse. Mendicants are multiplying. The Church doesn't like them, the NYPD doesn't like them, even gangs don't like them, but nobody has the will to crush them and everybody has their guns out for bigger fish. They're walking the streets right now, sleeping in lofts, kissing lepers, fighting among themselves and stinking up that coffee shop you like so much.