On a cold October evening in downtown Anchorage, a handful of Catholics from the archdiocese and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church’s ministry of peace and justice answered Pope Francis’ call to reach out to people who are suffering.
In his first apostolic exhortation – The Joy of The Gospel — the pope said, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security … If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and goal in life.”
This handful of local Catholics reached out and shared Christ’s light by affirming each person’s innate dignity and dispelling the darkness of domestic violence.
Joining in the work of AWAIC (Anchorage Women’s Aid in Crisis), we began in prayer and then spread across town square. This is an annual prayer service jointly held with AWAIC to “Shed The Light” of dignity to all.
Our purpose was threefold: To proclaim publicly that everyone has dignity that comes from God; to pray for all impacted by violence that they may recognize their dignity and see that no one deserves to be treated with violence of any kind (this includes physical and sexual violence but also verbal violence — harassment, bullying, demeaning, etc.); to engage with others by sharing pins of light with the words “Dignity dispels the darkness of Domestic Violence.”
Our hope is that by realizing one’s innate dignity they will accept that they are worthy of respect and will then recognize when they are being treated in a way that offends their human dignity. The other hope is that by recognizing their own dignity and that of others, people will see that committing violence on another goes against the dignity of all people.
This prayer service was only 90 minutes but we all felt the enormous impact from sharing the light of Christ through personal encounters with others. A few people did not want to stop and hear our message, but the majority, especially those appearing most vulnerable, expressed sincere gratitude for the message and the acknowledgement of their dignity.
There were two specific instances wherein individuals we encountered shared stories of how domestic violence had deeply impacted their lives.
One woman said she and her small children were survivors of domestic violence. She shared her story of fleeing their home to seek shelter and assistance from this violence. She wanted her children to know of their worth and dignity.
Another person shared about no longer being abusive toward those he loved. His story was one of recovery, hers was one of healing.
I believe this prayerful outreach impacted participants as well as those we met. I felt closer to Christ in meeting those who were suffering and hungry for someone to affirm their dignity.
Jesus calls us all to reach out to the poor and suffering. This entails stepping out to encounter suffering face-to-face. In taking this risk, we find Christ.