It has been an exciting past year with Pope Francis becoming the leader of our church. Like many of you, I find great wisdom and inspiration in the pope’s words. The Holy Father helps us to reflect more deeply on how God’s love can open our hearts to solidarity with our neighbors and move us to action. What better time to reflect on his words that truly invite love-inspired action to address poverty, than during this ongoing season of Lent.
“The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”
“Poverty calls us to sow hope … Poverty is the flesh of the poor Jesus, in that child who is hungry, in the one who is sick, in those unjust social structures.” (These quotations come from Pope Francis’ meeting with students of Jesuit schools on June 7, 2013).
Lent resonates with so many of us because it is a special time of reflection, penance and action to help us prepare for Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Parishes have been very receptive to supporting the work of CSS, in specific and thoughtful ways, during Lent. Both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church and St. Patrick Church have adopted Lent projects honoring Pope Francis’ teachings on poverty by reaching out to the hungry and homeless.
At St. Elizabeth’s, with help from their supportive and energetic Knights of Columbus council, the parish is now collecting canned food for the St. Francis House Food Pantry — 40 cans per family over the full 40 days of Lent. The parish is also promoting financial donations to supply a family of four with fresh produce and dairy for a week, and parishioners are participating in two parish volunteer days at the pantry during Lent.
Over at St. Patrick’s, the parish is supporting our “job readiness” initiative at Brother Francis Shelter. We provide many employment training opportunities for shelter guests. Those who are unemployed or hard to employ may participate in our in-house program which provides daily structured volunteer duties at the shelter. You may not know that it takes 47 volunteer shelter guests in addition to CSS staff to run the shelter on a daily basis. With support from St. Patrick’s we plan to purchase an industrial dishwasher to provide employment training opportunities (learning how to operate it is a résumé worthy skill) and save on waste (each night we use approximately 250 plastic dishes and utensils). St. Patrick’s parishioners are also attending a volunteer workday at the shelter this Lent.
Parishioners throughout the archdiocese are welcome to join us for the Good Friday Faith Walk that starts at Brother Francis Shelter at 10 a.m., and Easter Mass at 11:30 a.m. Along with the Lent activities I mentioned we are starting up a “Listening Post” style of ministry at the shelter. This wonderful and compassionate service was started several years ago in Anchorage and has operated out of the transit bus station downtown. It was a dream of the founders that an additional site be established at Brother Francis Shelter. Volunteers will be needed to cover evening hours to be present for homeless individuals and open to hearing about their burdens. This will be an on-going ministry because people at the shelter often suffer from acute loneliness and are in need of a human connection. We would all agree that having someone truly listen to us can be transformational.
Pope Francis has taught us so much in such a short time and was truly an answer to the prayers of so many. I am grateful to have witnessed his first year of leadership from the perspective of the volunteers, donors and staff committed to the work of Catholic Social Services.
The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more information about CSS, call 276-5590 or visit cssalaska.org.