Posts Tagged ‘Urban Poverty’
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.
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.