An Enriching Encounter with Christ in the City
Two little sisters recently enjoyed an enriching encounter with Christ in the City, a youth movement enabling young adults to live together, pray together, and walk the streets together in order to build a culture of encounter with the poor. Father Michael Zimmerman, formerly a student along with Sr. Jessica Marie at Boston University, currently serves as assistant Vocation Director for the Archdiocese of Boston. Since he would be accompanying a group of seminarians and young people who were giving their Spring Break to work as “mission troopers” alongside the missionaries in the streets of Philadelphia, he invited the Little Sisters to join this community of “Christ in the City” for a day.
The Little Sisters arrived in time for Lauds at 6:30 a.m. followed by an hour of Eucharistic adoration. Father was available for Confession while a healthy breakfast for the group of about forty was prepared.
After breakfast, the Little Sisters each joined a small team, led by a missionary, to walk the streets. A person’s relationships are among their most basic needs. Yes, the homeless need the same things we do: food, shelter, and loving relationships. Unfortunately, the need for loving relationships is often overlooked, making it one of the greatest poverties on the streets. Christ in the City missionaries serve for one or two years. Each day they walk the same routes through the city, encountering their “friends on the street”, trying to return to specific homeless persons who seem to want someone to listen to them, someone with whom they can share their stories. The missionaries are grateful to be able, over time, to befriend them; they learn many life lessons from them and view these friends as a gift. Every Wednesday they host a “lunch in the park” which is open to all.
As we walked, we would stop to greet a friend, some well-known by the missionaries, others new to them. For one, the missionaries had brought some carefully chosen clothes; with another, they made plans to share Stromboli for dinner the following day during their night ministry. Some were tired and did not want to talk; others were very friendly, calling us over to chat. We enjoyed seeing their reactions to meeting a nun. Some of the friends were Catholic and the Little Sisters wearing a habit brought back memories. One lady gave the Sister a grateful hug.
The Little Sisters could easily relate with what the missionaries explained as their core inspiration, namely, Our Blessed Mother Mary and St. John at the foot of the Cross. Jesus’ Mother and Beloved Disciple didn’t try to remove the nails that pierced His feet; they were simply steadfastly there, with Him. These missionaries don’t feel called to or capable of solving problems. They simply try to befriend the homeless as persons worthy of a listening ear and a respectful presence. We, daughters of Jeanne Jugan, are likewise called to imitate Our Blessed Mother and St. John, not striving to “fix the world,” but to be a loving presence with our Residents. Taped over the clock on the way out of the door, a sign reads, “Just waste time”! An excellent reminder for all of us, since moments spent being present to others and to God without counting the time, are truly the most valuable.
Encountering Christ in the City in the person of the homeless culminated with 12 o’clock Mass in one of the neighborhood Churches to encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Time was taken for thanksgiving after Communion and then a bunch of hungry troopers enjoyed a hearty lunch back at the convent. We were able to share with them the story of St. Jeanne Jugan, who herself discovered Christ in an elderly woman in need of shelter and of someone to care. The young people were all seeking God’s will for their lives and wanted to know how the sisters knew God was calling them, if they ever got homesick, what exactly was the spirituality of the Congregation, etc. –many very good questions!
The afternoon also provided an opportunity for de-briefing—sharing and discussing the morning’s experience and encounters. The missionaries then usually have on-line classes in theology and spirituality. The Little Sisters left for Holy Family Home edified by their encounters with Christ in the City and these generous youth, and encouraged with hopes of future vocations to the priesthood, consecrated life and lives marked by love for God and His people.