Archive for the ‘Domestic Poverty’ Category
The Jesuit Constitutions instruct all Jesuit novices to do a month-long pilgrimage “without money… begging from door to door… to grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging.”
This tradition is how Wisconsin Province Jesuit Jeff Dorr, a scholastic in First Studies, found himself with $35, a one-way bus ticket and an order to be home for dinner at 4:00 p.m., exactly 30 days later.
Dorr took the bus from Detroit to Atlanta. From there he planned to walk 20 miles to a Trappist monastery to spend his pilgrimage in prayerful solitude.
But within minutes, his plan changed. The first person he stopped to ask for directions had just gotten out of prison. They talked for a few minutes, and Dorr was so moved that he gave the man $10 for train fare. Next, he met a homeless man, and Dorr gave him the remainder of his money so he could eat.
“I realized that I felt drawn to a new focus,” Dorr said. “I knew what homeless people looked like and sounded like, but I never knew experientially what it meant to be homeless. I thought maybe that’s where this should go. Something of that experience of being on the street and being without was what I was meant to be doing.”
Dorr spent 18 nights at a homeless shelter, where he met dozens of people who shared their stories with him.
“One thing I gained from the shelter was a whole new appreciation for who ends up there,” said Dorr. He found that while many shelter residents have addiction or mental health issues, others are people who had houses and jobs and then something went wrong, like a divorce.
“The point of the pilgrimage is to spend the month letting go of our typical securities of home, money, community, and in doing that, come to trust more fully in God,” he said. “I realized how blessed I am, and that no matter what I do, I can’t experience life on the streets the way these guys do. It changed the outlook I had of what I was striving for and what God was calling me to. His message to me was to be with them, but you can’t be them.”
Read more of Dorr’s pilgrimage experience at Xavier Magazine.
In 1972, Jesuit Father John Baumann started a small training institute with the goal of supporting neighborhood organizations in California. What eventually came from this idea was the Pacific Institute for Community Organizations, now known as the PICO National Network. And, his desire to help local organizations has grown to a national outreach program, which has helped more than a million families and 1,000 congregations from 40 religious denominations. PICO has successfully worked to increase access to healthcare, improve public schools, make neighborhoods safer, build affordable housing and redevelop communities. Because of his work on problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities, Fr. Baumann sat down with the National Catholic Reporter to share his perspective on the U.S. economy today.
NCR: From your long-term perspective, what do you make of all that’s going on in the U.S. today regarding economic disparity, Occupy movements, etc.?
Baumann: I’d say that many Americans believe that the American Dream, also known as “America is the land of opportunity,” was once true, but it doesn’t hold anymore. Every previous generation has really known America as the land of opportunity, where children were expected to do as well or better than their parents. Yet, today we find our nation in a crisis, with record levels of poverty, the rising inequality and worsening predictions for our children’s future.
What is really troubling to me is this whole gap between the rich and the poor that has been growing over the past 20 years or more. It’s not an aberration; it’s a result of deliberate choices. It seems like that over the last 40 years, a series of economic choices have really redistributed the income upwards and as a result of that, it provided less and less opportunities to everyone else. All this has led to the financial stress on our families, and really it’s something that hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression.
The first step to aiding the poor is to stand with them, Jesuit Father Fred Kammer said in a lecture to Urban Plunge participants at the University of Notre Dame.
The Urban Plunge is a credit course offered to any student at Notre Dame by the Social Concerns Department. Its purpose is to demonstrate the problems of homelessness and poverty in the inner city. The core of the program is a 48 hour “urban plunge” during the Christmas vacation at a city near the student’s home. This plunge is preceded by several class periods and readings, and followed by another class period and a final paper.
Fr. Kammer’s lecture to the students, titled “Building Justice in the Cities,” addressed breaking the cycle of urban poverty. Kammer is currently is the executive director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute and has worked as the president of Catholic Charities USA.
“Making the invisible visible is the first step to compassion,” Kammer said. “Standing with the poor is a touchstone that gives us a wisdom that comes from the poor themselves and leads us to make judgments in favor of the poor.”
Kammer said taking a stand with the poor challenges our society’s dominant views.
“Standing with those who are poor introduces us to a new way of seeing the world around us,” he said. “This insistence on personal contact runs against our culture’s proclivity to see the poor as invisible or faceless.”
Kammer said once people make an initial commitment to stand with the poor, they might change the way they live their own lives.
“One of the first reactions that people have is to adopt a simpler lifestyle,” he said. “This choice is a stance appropriate to students. Individuals who stand with the poor also stand with them in their career choices whether by choosing to teach in inner-city schools instead of the suburbs or doing social work in place of commercial law.
You can read more about Kammer’s lecture and the Urban Plunge program via this article in the university’s Observer newspaper. Kammer’s lecture can be found on video at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concern’s website here.
“I have to leave, but I want to leave you with something from me: an oath before God. From today until the day I die, I dedicate my life to the liberation of the poor in the struggle for justice, and you are my inspiration.” Jesuit Father Fernando Cardenal declared these to his friends and neighbors in Medellin, Colombia, over 40 years ago after completing his final course for becoming a member of the Society of Jesus.
With the assistance of a translator, Fr. Cardenal explained to a packed audience at Boston College that his time spent living in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Colombian city informed his entire life’s work as a Jesuit and political leader in his native Nicaragua.
Among his neighbors was a family with seven children, whom Cardenal referred to as his “little bodyguards” because they were always following him around. One time, when he returned to his Jesuit residence, Cardenal walked in to find the children eating the Jesuits’ garbage. He described the emotional impact this moment had on him. Cardenal said, “That was a big hit for me. I loved them. You can’t imagine what that did for me.”
He continued, “Many times, the only thing these children had to eat was a roll made from corn and hot water with brown sugar added to it. My neighborhood was like a big lake, and we were all under the water of suffering. Often, I didn’t want to leave the house. The people were always suffering and without hope. When I walked down the street, I kept repeating to myself, ‘Unbearable. Unbearable. Unbearable.’”
Cardenal realized, “I cannot accept that people live this way. As a human being and as a Christian, I cannot accept it. It has to change.”
Jesuit Father Peter Klink is currently the school parish chaplain at the Red Cloud Indian School in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The Pine Ridge reservation of the Lakota Tribe covers a large, 5,000 square foot swath of land in the southwestern corner of South Dakota.
Here, Fr. Klink ministers to the Lakota’s communities three schools and in its parishes. He’s held many responsibilities during his 26 years of native ministry on the Pine Ridge, including 18 years as the school’s president.
Today, staggering poverty and an unemployment rate that hovers around 80% leave the children of the Pine Ridge facing an uphill struggle as they learn and grown up on the reservation. But, Klink endeavors to make sure the two elementary schools and the high school that make up the school system on the Pine Ridge are a beacon of hope for the possibility of a bright future for the Lakota and their families.
Recently, Klink took the time to speak with National Jesuit News by phone from the Red Cloud School for our monthly podcast series. You can listen to our interview with him below: