Monday, August 27, 2012

Wash and Be Washed; Feed and Be Fed


At first, most of our community thought it was strange to postpone Opening Retreat and Orientation until we'd all been here at least three weeks.  By the time it arrived, however, we agreed that it provided a welcome time to be refreshed and reminded why we are here.

Our opening retreat took place at Camp Dewan in Wisconsin. We got to see open spaces and look at stars again for the first time since moving to Chicago.  We spent time discussing and reflecting on the four key values that Franciscan Outreach Volunteers seeks to instill in us during our volunteer year:  simple living, service, community and spirituality.  It was a good opportunity for our group to get on the same page about these things and share our hearts about them.  We read from the Gospels and other Catholic figures.  Jesus and Dorothy Day echoed a lot of what I think many of us have either already been thinking or need to hear.  I was particularly struck by the passage from the latter; when talking about poverty, she said, "maybe it is a grace which [we] must pray for." To think about poverty as a state that we should seek in our own lives feels very foreign to me coming from my largely comfortable life.  Having encountered so many people in the past month, however, who live with so little every day, I'm starting to try to understand what they have that I don't without risking self-righteous presumption.  The readings started the thinking process, at least.

Hand washing at the Opening Retreat
Part of the retreat included a sort of ritual that helped connect us as a community.  Our Community Assistant/"house mom" brought a basin, towel, and a bar of soap to the table in the middle of our circle and called all of us to approach one by one, each having our hands washed and washing someone else's in turn.  I've had my feet washed twice before and cherish those moments as very sacred experiences, but  I wasn't prepared for what it would be like to have the same thing done to my hands.  They've grown a little tougher these days, and with the perils of working in the kitchen every day, they now bear a few more marks and bruises.  One of my German housemates took my hands after lathering up his own and proceeded to massage the foam into them--palms, fingers and all.  He wouldn't let me help but rinsed and dried them off himself.  And then I got to do the same to one of my fellow soup-kitchen workers.  Each handwashing concluded with a hug between the washed and the washer.  I arose from the table feeling cleansed in more ways than one.

The retreat also provided many lighter times to simply enjoy being together as a group.  We went to a Cub's game, thanks to a generous donation (and they won!), and later took part in a volunteer gathering with several other programs from around the city.  It was a good opportunity to find out about the work other people our age are doing in Chicago and start making connections outside Franciscan Outreach.
Cub's Game

Orientation was very informative and gave our community a broader perspective on realities that our homeless population has to face on a regular basis.  We heard from the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, St. Leonard's Ministries, and the Br. David Darst Center.  Each of these groups shared stories from men who were formerly homeless or presented situations that often apply to the people we serve, whether they involve mental illness, addictions, or incarceration.  It made me see many of our guests in a different light as I thought about what I've heard of their experiences.

Father Chuck Faso also came to teach us about St. Francis and how Franciscans continue to embody his spirit in the modern world.  We talked of peace and how we can show it to our guests in our own home every day.  Father Chuck also led us in Mass at the end of the day.  We passed the peace together with hugs and blessings, and read from John about how Jesus is our very food and drink.  Fr. Chuck's homily echoed for me an important sentiment from a Walker Percy novel about how the main character had to "eat Christ" to inhabit his own flesh and love the people around him.  I think that sharing the Presence together was a good reminder for us that we embody Christ in ourselves inasmuch as we feed His sheep with meals and grace.

Banner near the entrance of the Marquard Center
In that sense, Mass and our commissioning service served as sort of bookends for me with the handwashing ritual a few days earlier.  The next day, Kendall ended orientation by commissioning us with more words from Dorothy Day: "We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other.  We know Him in the breaking of bread and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore."  Each of us also received the sign of the Tau around our necks, a physical reminder of the grace and peace we have been given and should now give to our guests each day.  Our kitchen crew served dinner that night wearing our necklaces, eager to continue the work we've been called to do in our new home.

I'm thankful that we had some time to dive into volunteer life and settle into the Marquard Center before officially kicking things off, because instead of just getting more information about "the homeless problem," I was learning how to understand the guests I've been getting to know for the past month.  I wasn't being commissioned with some amorphous, self-righteous goal to evangelize the lost, but rather receiving grace that I can now give to my new brothers and sisters as they come and go through my door.  It seems like a pretty good way to start my year as a Franciscan.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Transitions: Meet our New Volunteers


2011-12 outgoing volunteers
Each summer our volunteer program undergoes a transition from one community to the next. We had to say goodbye to a great group of volunteers from 2011-12.  Many have gone off to continue their educations, some to volunteer again and one to join the Franciscans!  Thanks to all of you for the sacrifices you've made to accompany those who are homeless and marginalized.  Your presence can not be measured.  Thank you Mario, Gelavije, Vinzenz, Marko, Nik, Nassim, Jon, Mike, Felix, Kaytee and Brian, you will be missed! 

We've also gotten to welcome a great group of 2012-13 Franciscan Outreach Volunteers. Meet our new volunteers:
New 2012-13 Volunteers on their Opening Retreat
Back row, Left to Right: Molly, Justin, Maiko, Jonas, Patrick, Gillian and Chris
Front row, Left to Right: Casie, Emily, Molly Anne, Carissa, Kara and Holly

Molly serves as our Community Assistant.  She’s pursuing her MA in Public Health at UIC.  She formerly volunteered for 2 years in Malawi with the Marianists and founded a non-profit, CROSO, to support the education of street children in Uganda.

Justin is originally from New Mexico, but has come to us from Texas where he just completed is Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at University of Texas-San Antonio.  He has an infectious smile that the community loves to imitate. Justin is serving at the Franciscan House as a CVN AmeriCorps member.

Maiko is from Mannheim, Germany and serves at the Franciscan House shelter.  He keeps himself busy navigating the music scene in Chicago and mixing beats.

Jonas is our resident hipster this year and has recently acquired a passion for baseball.  He joins us from Bad Neustadt, Germany and is serving at the Marquard Center.

Patrick joins us from Bielefeld, Germany and is serving at the Franciscan House shelter.  Patrick easily has the most contagious laugh in the group.

Gillian recently graduated from the University of Virginia where she studied English & Linguistics and Media Studies.  She’s from The Plains, Virginia and is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member the Marquard Center. She’s the only one in the community who knows how to use a circular loom.

Chris joins us from Munster, Germany and is serving at the Franciscan House shelter. He’s happy to be living in a place that appreciates basketball as much as he does.

Casie hails from Owasso, Oklahoma and serves as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.  She recently graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University where she studied Philosophy and minored in Psychology and English. Casie’s been to 48 of the 50 states.

Emily recently graduated from Trinity University where she studied International Studies and French. Emily spent a semester studying abroad with a host family in France.  She  is serving at the Franciscan House as a CVN AmeriCorps Member.

Molly Anne joins us from Hickory, North Carolina where she just graduated from University of NC-Asheville with degrees in Psychology & Sociology.  Molly came straight from a summer with Catholic Heart WorkCamp and is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Carissa recently graduated from Dominican University where she studied Communication and Photography.  Carissa’s had many international volunteer experiences , she’s from the Chicago area and serving as a CVN AmeriCorps member at the Franciscan House.

Kara originally from Michigan, Kara joins us from Ohio where she completed a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA member serving as a Community Organizer.  She’s  from Michigan and graduated in ‘09 from Trine University where she studied Health Promotions and Recreational Programming/Athletic Training.   Kara is serving as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Holly recently graduated (early) from Lamar University where she studied Biology.  She’s a gifted artist and the official community doctor.  Holly hails from Orange, Texas and serves as a CVN AmeriCorps Member at the Marquard Center.

Welcome to Holly, Patrick, Jonas, Carissa, Maiko, Gillian, Chris, Justin, Kara Emily, Casie and Molly! Thank you for joining us this year!