Archive for the ‘Poverty’ Category
Fifteen years ago, Jesuit Father Bill Creed cofounded the Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) in Chicago to offer retreats to an often-overlooked group: the homeless. Fr. Creed and Ed Shurna, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, have been helping homeless people build community, find hope and transform their lives through ISP ever since.
“Many outreach programs for the homeless try to address basic attributes such as food, clothing, shelter and employment,” said Fr. Creed. “However, when addiction is in play – and it often is for the homeless – there can be no real transition from poverty until the individual person has the inner resources to make different choices … Ignatian Spirituality believes that facing our brokenness begins with facing our truth and encountering the unconditional love of our God who actively labors with us and desires for us ever greater freedom.”
Fr. Creed recently shared about his own spiritual journey while conducting the retreats. Fr. Creed recalled that a man from Canada once showed up two days early at a workshop for which he had not registered, demanding free housing, a free workshop and a special diet. Fr. Creed became very angry with the man in front of the staff.
In response to Fr. Creed’s reaction, one of his colleagues commented on his lack of hospitality for a man who was “poor not only materially but psychologically and socially” and suggested Fr. Creed was “not only angry but also fearful” and out of touch with his own internal poverty.
Looking back, Fr. Creed said, “It was that event which began to lead me to listen inwardly, to my own brokenness, my vulnerability, to what was below my anger and fear. I am poor and that is a gift … We are invited to follow Christ’s poor, either in spiritual poverty or actual poverty.”
Since it began in 1998, ISP has grown into a national network of more than 400 lay volunteers who help homeless men and women through retreats and spiritual companionship, and a new survey shows that the project is helping. The ISP Outcomes Survey, a two-year study conducted in collaboration with a number of organizations and professionals, has confirmed that people who participate in ISP programs experience long-term internal and external change. According to the results, participants experienced a statistically significant decrease in loneliness and improvement in housing and employment six months after a retreat.
Fr. Creed said that feeling as though one is listened to, believed in, respected and trusted can be transformative in a homeless person’s life, and ISP can provide such listening presences. “We are all called to do this wherever we are,” he said.
Jesuit Father Fred Enman became a Jesuit because of a calling within his calling. When he realized during college that he wanted to be a priest and practice poverty law, he says, “It became clear to me that the obvious thing to do was to join the Society of Jesus.”
On April 21, Fr. Enman was honored for his work with the poor when he received the Madonna Della Strada Award from the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) New England. As executive director and founder of Matthew 25, Fr. Enman and his volunteers rehabilitate abandoned houses in the Boston area to create affordable rental housing for low-income people. In addition, Fr. Enman serves as assistant dean and chaplain of Boston College Law School.
The idea for Matthew 25, which has rehabbed 11 houses since 1994, came to Fr. Enman while he was reading “The True Church and the Poor,” in which Jesuit Father Jon Sobrino wrote that Christians must make Gospel values real in the lives of the poor. The theologian singled out Matthew 25, which proclaims that people shall be judged on whether they fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned and welcomed the stranger in their midst.
“I was in my room and I was so moved by what I was reading that I put the book down and prayed about it,” recalled Fr. Enman. “Jesuits are encouraged from time to time to make a resolution at the end of a prayer, so what I resolved was that if I had a chance someday to make Matthew 25 concrete, I would do so.”
In 1988, Fr. Enman had that chance when he created a pastoral project for a class and proposed Matthew 25, with a mission to provide food and housing relief. Through yard sales, Fr. Enman raised money that went to food relief efforts here and abroad — and a small amount was set aside to start up Matthew 25. He continued to raise money while teaching at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and by 1994, Matthew 25 was able to buy and rehabilitate its first abandoned home in Worcester.
Since then, Matthew 25 has restored nine more houses in Worcester and one in Boston, renting them to the poor at affordable prices. Fr. Enman said that most of the work has been done by volunteers, including students from Holy Cross and Boston College, parish and youth groups from local churches and the IVC.
Fr. Enman said his work with Matthew 25 has enabled him to see a “great connection between a Jesuit vocation and the ethical values that are developed in Scripture.” He added, “It’s very practical what we are called to in taking care of the basic needs of human beings in terms of food, shelter and clothing. Everyone in the community has a responsibility.”
One house, one family and one community at a time. That’s how Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot approaches his goal to help alleviate poverty and stabilize neighborhoods in North Omaha, Neb., through his Gesu Housing, Inc. ministry.
Gesu Housing’s mission is to build and sell high-quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes to people who are hard-working and have a good credit rating, but who live below the area’s 80 percent median family income and are therefore considered low-income by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “In the process, we believe we are also re-building a community in North Omaha,” Br. Wilmot says.
The origins of Gesu Housing can be traced to 1994, when Br. Wilmot returned from serving Sudanese refugees in Northern Uganda to help build Omaha’s Jesuit Middle School. There, he worked with Phil McKeon, a former student of his at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and the school’s concrete contractor. Recognizing the energy efficiency benefits that poured concrete walls could provide and feeling a calling to help the area’s working poor realize the dream of home ownership, Br. Wilmot began building concrete houses with McKeon, and Gesu Housing was born in 2002.
Since then, Gesu Housing has turned to building wood frame houses because they are less expensive, but its goal of building energy-efficient homes remains.
Br. Wilmot chose to start building in his own neighborhood, Clifton Hills, where he and several Jesuits have their residence. This sets Gesu Housing apart from other low-income homebuilders because it’s part of the community. The community has a significant need, with “plenty of vacant lots, a lack of home ownership and noticeable urban decay,” Br. Wilmot says.
The neighborhood also qualifies as a “low-to moderate-income” area, per government guidelines. After qualifying for federal grants through the Omaha Planning Department, hopeful families are then able to take out a mortgage. The goal is to have these families own a higher-quality, more attractive house than much of the lower-income housing that is available – for a monthly payment of approximately $600. Because the federal grant and homeowner loan do not cover the cost of each house, Gesu depends on fundraising for the rest.
Br. Wilmot says that with proper funding, the goal is to build six houses each year. “We will fight to continue this improvement one neighborhood at a time.”
Each home closing is a reminder of why Br. Wilmot does this work. “It’s incredibly rewarding to give the keys for a new house to a family or individual who has worked hard to reach this dream,” he says.
For more on Gesu Housing and Br. Wilmot, visit the Wisconsin Province website.
To mark the beginning of Lent, Jesuit scholastic Brendan Busse wrote at The Jesuit Post that, “If ever there were a day to accept failure it was Ash Wednesday … Accept that you will ultimately fail (in death if not before) and your priorities shift, your humility rises, your every action takes on a little more significance; your very life rises out of the dust of nothingness.
“It’s as if there is a moment in which you accept your essential poverty. And suddenly there is nothing to lose. And all of life becomes gift,” he wrote.
According to Busse, the antidote to poverty is not wealth but generosity. “Generosity begins with our attention. Reading. Listening. Considering. Being attentive and literate. Being sensitive and considerate. Generosity continues with our responsibility, that is, our ability to respond.”
“While two days past was Ash Wednesday … yesterday was Valentine’s Day … which reminds me that we were not made for failure … we were made for love.
“After all, you have to make love to make us and it is only in love that our failure finds redemption. What if this were true? It would follow that it is only in poverty – in standing with, listening to, learning from the poor and all who suffer – that we will find the fullness of life.”
Read Busse’s full essay at The Jesuit Post.
Jesuit Father Gary Smith has dedicated more than 50 years of his life to serving the poor, including the last dozen in African refugee camps in Uganda, South Africa and Kenya. He says that working with the poor in U.S. cities, such as Portland, Tacoma and Oakland, prepared him for his work with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Africa.
“It gave me a viewpoint of how the church had moved toward the poor. All the personalities you find on the streets prepare you for all the personalities you find in the camps. Human beings are human beings,” Fr. Smith says.
Now back in the states, Fr. Smith recently spoke with The Oregonian about why he’s drawn to Africa: “There are the poor and there are the poor. My experience in the refugee camp is that people there have no address, no money, no documents. The degree of poverty is very different.”
Fr. Smith also discussed working with refugees from other faiths. He said working with Muslims was not difficult. “They believe in the absolute, the creator. They want help discerning how God is moving in their lives,” he says. “They saw me as a father, someone who wanted to listen to them very attentively. These students knew the Quran, and they rejected extremists out of hand.”
Fr. Smith also spent time helping refugee students work on an online diploma program through Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, which is run by Jesuit universities and JRS. “When you work with really bright refugees who want nothing more than to be a man and a woman for others, there is a great sense of accomplishment in that,” Fr. Smith says.
To read the complete interview with Fr. Smith, visit The Oregonian website.