Youth Meeting – Washington 2016

Youth Meeting - Washington 2016

Do you dream of a better world? Do you want to improve your city? Do you want to know more about the Youth for Peace? If so, come join us in our Youth Meeting. Come spend a day in friendship as we exchange past experiences and aspirations for the future. If you too think your city can improve, join us as we work concretely to improve the world around us; one person and one service at a time.

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A Culture of Solidarity

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Renan Orellana, New York City
     Community of Sant’Egidio | August 9th, 2016

The culture of our cities in the U.S. seems to be more of a culture of isolation than of encounter, of neglect than of service, of individualism than of solidarity. Pope Francis asks each of us What does serving mean? and if we want to conform to a definition of service widely promoted in our cities, we can easily respond to this question with “volunteering your time to help someone”.

But to serve means so much more than to simply be physically present for someone with your time and efforts. Pope Francis calls us to serve in the same way that Jesus knelt down to wash the apostles’ feet:

“What does serving mean? It means giving an attentive welcome to a person who arrives. It means bending over those in need and stretching out a hand to them, without calculation, without fear, but with tenderness and understanding…”

How many times do we find ourselves offering to help someone, but do it with impatience, in a rush, mechanically, as if physically present but absent to the human relationships that are right in front of us?

In New York, we take the children of the School of Peace to Hopkins Nursing Home because through friendship with the elderly we can teach them and ourselves the importance of establishing human relationships of closeness and compassion. Like many of us, the children arrived at the nursing home for the first time with fear and even disgust. Like many children and young people in our cities, the children of the School of Peace were never given the opportunity to encounter the elderly with compassion. To them, the elderly were too old, too weak, too frail, too stinky and too sad to ever become a friend. To the world, the elderly are too old, too weak, too frail, too stinky and too sad to ever become once again valuable members of communities and society. The culture of waste in our cities throws away the elderly and sick to nursing homes, prisons for those who have lost their human value.

But the children of the School of Peace are a testament to how we can change the mentality of this world through love and bonds of solidarity. The children of the School of Peace love the elderly – they sing with them, dance for them, push around the wheelchairs, talk to them, serve them food, celebrate with them. The elderly love the children and youth that visit them, and together as one big family, we celebrate the transformation of a forgotten prison into a place of welcome, encounter and service.

So let’s remember the word solidarity when we go out into our cities. Because, as Pope Francis said, this is a word that frightens the developed world:

“People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word. But it is our word! Serving means recognizing and accepting requests for justice and hope, and seeking roads together, real paths that lead to liberation.”

 

 

To the other end of the World and back

Ashly and I had the amazing opportunity to spend a month in Mozambique with the Community. In a world that for many reasons could not be more different than ours we found ourselves right at home, surrounded by a large family. There is a beauty in knowing that wherever in the world you may travel, no matter the language barrier or difference in culture, you can find friends for life through the Community. In our month among many things, we were able to see the DREAM and BRAVO Centers that the Community started, have prayer at one of the prisons in Maputo, meet many Youth for Peace, attend the school of peace, help out at the Nutritional Center and the pre-school that is run there in the morning. While words could never do the experience justice, I hope that Ashly and I can use this trip as a way to bridge the gap between such divided worlds and see that not only there are commonalities between everyone, but also that it is only in recognizing those that we can dream of a better future for all.

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Remembering Names

Marie Gardner, Mobile, AL                                                                                                                                     Community of Sant’ Egidio | July 27, 2016

I first met the community at the Easter retreat three years ago. Throughout my few days with Sant’ Egidio, I learned about several of the beautiful ways in which those a part of the community serve in their home cities, such as visiting the elderly, being a mentor to children, and taking the time to reach out to the homeless. Yet, the one that stood out to me the most, is the simplest ministry there is, remembering names.

Isaiah 43:1 says, “I have called you by name.”  I think that many of us forget at times how profound this verse is. When the Lord was speaking to Jacob, he did not say “sir” or “hey you,” he said, “Jacob.”

I work at a summer camp and the little kids like to quiz me on their names. They are always saying, “What’s my name, do you remember my name!?” If I got their name  wrong, they would quickly correct me. I always had the mindset that it wasn’t a big deal if I got it wrong because they would tell me what it was; however, I never paid attention to that fact that they were a little disappointed when I did not know it. To them, I was seeing them as just another camper, not as an individual within the camp.

Before this retreat with the community, I had never reflected about the importance of recognizing a person by name. Just like the camp kids, I always thought that if I forgot, I could ask the person again. Yet, during this retreat I started to understand how remembering names gives a person a sense of self-worth and dignity.

The community of Sant’ Egidio makes it a priority to take the time to get to know people, especially those who are often forgotten or overlooked. They see the the elderly, the homeless, and all others pushed to the peripherals of our cities as people who should not be ignored, but as humans deserving of our love. Calling a person by name, signifies that the person is remembered, that he or she is worthy of our acknowledgement and our friendship.

Come and See

 

We all have moments that we cannot describe with words. Instead we say, “you should’ve been there,” or “oh, you had to be there to get it.” These range from funny episodes to tragic recounting, truly running the gamut of the human experience. Unfortunately, the moment has passed and cannot be repeated, leaving the audience wanting something that cannot be had.

 

My experience with the Community of Sant’Egidio has been one of these; so far indescribable with words alone. For years I have struggled to really capture its essence for the friends who ask. “Well, it’s kind of a service group. Yea, the basic tenets are friendship, prayer, and service. Nope, there’s no membership. Yup, I went to mass at a nursing home for nearly 15 years.” But there’s something intangible about the Community, and I think it is the same thing that was intangible about Jesus.

 

Only recently, with the help of Lisa Bennett, was I able to mimic the call in John’s Gospel and broadly invite other students to the Street Greetings service on the streets in Washington DC on Friday nights. “Come and see.” In essence, this is what they were told. ‘Come and see this service group, give it a shot.’ Surprisingly to me, many came. These simple words were enough to stir the curiosity of a number of students about this group that gave much less of an explanation than most other groups making announcements do.

 

Since then, a good number have grown steadily faithful, and together we are building a stronger and more present Community on campus. Several weeks after his first time coming, my friend Kevin said to me, “we should make another announcement at mass, because now when people come they will see what we’re all about.” The fact that he got it so quickly after receiving the invitation himself gave me great hope.

 

Now I know truly the best way to explain my life and my Community to others. Come and see. This is not something that, like that joke last night, you can’t get. It is there waiting for you, welcoming you with open arms. Like Jesus, it does not turn away, it does not forget you, and it does not ignore you. Like Philip, who having just met Jesus, understands who he is, and runs to invite Nathanael to “come and see,” we too ought to invite others. There is an obligation to share this good news, this love and friendship with which we have been blessed. (1:43-51) It took me long enough, but finally I can invite any and all to come and see.

Looking to the Elderly to Find Friendship and Peace.

Matt O’Donnell, Chicago
     Community of Sant’Egidio | July 12th, 2016

I recently met my buddy Ben at an International House of Pancakes. Although slightly closer to Chicago than Grand Rapids, Michigan City has been a convenient halfway point for he and I to meet a few times a year. As are many events that inspire one to write, this particular meeting was an irregularity in the previously linear and relatively uneventful history of our friendship. It was nothing in particular that either of us had said, but more the considerably muted nature of our interaction that struck me that day. On my drive back to Chicago, the first thing I took note of was how this has been a trend that has occurred over the last few times I had seen Ben or any of my other close friends from college and even high school. As I journeyed down this rabbit hole of maturity, I saw these friendships in a different way for the first time. I previously had thought of my relationships with my buddies as being bound by our proclivity for debauchery at all times.

I feel that often, our tendencies for this type of behavior are highest at the time in our lives when we turn 18. Whether you are off to work or starting your freshman year of college, 18 is one of the more sobering and obtrusive signals that adulthood is imminent. As it did with most of my friendships, I felt for a long time that it was our resistance, and quite honestly fear, towards the uncertainty of what was ahead of us, that made us close. Our defiance was always our absurd conversations, texts, and pranks amongst other activities. But after my recent meeting with Ben, I realized that the fear of the future, and the childlike behavior it induced in me, is present in many of us to some varying degree. So, as someone who understands better through analogy, indulge me as I briefly deploy one here.

In the road trip of life, I began to think of my reunions with friends and family members as exits on my journey (it’s corny but stay with me). For example, each time I would see Ben over the years since college, I was a different person. He was a different person. With each exit and cup of coffee and plate of bacon pancakes, I began to see beneath the surface of our friendship and realize that there are other qualities that made us such great friends. Although we never talk about these types of things, because guy code of course, we both have an understanding that it is important to do the right thing, to help people who were given less than you, to be kind to others, and that the highest grade fuel for the cross country trip of life, can be found in friendship. And friendship can be with anyone. I feel lucky that on my drive home that day, I began to see that these were the qualities that constituted the foundations of all my relationships and I felt bad for not having realized this sooner. I also came to understand that had I not been following the idol of my own conceit, thinking that in times of need I could hack it without good friends or that I could skip a family gradation or event, I could have seen the importance of friendship sooner.

I started to think about how too often, I march brazenly into the future, led by my own pride, without pausing to reflect and learn from the past, or sometimes more importantly, listen in the present. I thought about the many times that I allowed my fear to convince me that there is security in isolation, that my involvement in something would be too little to make a change, and the countless excuses I would come up with so that I could avoid meeting someone different and unknown to me. And then I remembered the two recent blessings in my life that provided me the new frame of reference that allowed me to encounter these realizations: my introduction in February to the Community of Sant’Egidio and my newest friend, Arthur.

In February, I was forced to challenge the isolation, the apathy, and the fear that I had always carried with me. I had bought a plane ticket to Rome in October 2015 to visit a friend of mine who would be studying there this year. Needless to say, I let my insecurities tear down this beautiful friendship, and by early December I was stuck with a non-refundable plane ticket to a language barrier and no one to see. Be it the grace of God or just coincidence, I had the idea that I would turn this negative situation into a positive by looking to get involved in some service work. Through some asking around I was put in contact with a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio in Rome.

I was extremely nervous. I had never done anything like this before. For instance, in college, I was all signed up and approved to study abroad in Rome, but came up with some excuse to stay home. Anytime I had a wonderful, horizon-broadening opportunity ahead of me, I folded and played it safe. This time, I was locked in. And every day since I returned from that trip, I am so grateful for being challenged to overcome my fears. Throughout my eighteen days in Rome, I saw many things and made many new lifelong friends. However, the main thing I brought back with me was the ability to identify that fear is what drove many of the negative actions in my life. I came back to Chicago with a new frame of reference – one that showed me that how important it is to seek out friendships. I told myself that now I must push past the irrational fears, and if I did this, I would encounter something wonderful on the other side. That is exactly what happened when I met Arthur.

I met Arthur on Palm Sunday at St. Michael’s in Old Town, an old historic church in Chicago. I sat in the second row and across the aisle from me was an older gentleman, with a walker, who was quietly praying. The presider of mass that evening then called everyone to begin mass at the back of the church with the procession of the palms. As I started toward the back of church I turned and saw this man sitting there. Instead of continuing on and ‘leaving it up to him or someone else’ I approached him and asked if he needed help getting to the back of church. He assured me he was fine and said that he appreciated my offer. I thought the interaction was over until after mass, when he called to me. I introduced myself and he introduced himself as Arthur. He then asked me to ask his last name. Upon doing so, he promptly replied, “-itis.”

That was all it took for a friendship to be born: an offer to help and simple joke. Art is at the 6 p.m. mass every Sunday and I am there sitting across from him most Sundays. After mass we talk about the Cubs and White Sox and we now call others over to join us. We’ve developed a wonderful little Sunday evening group now. And all I had to do was overcome the irrational, initial fear of rejection or failure. Once I did, I made an invaluable friend and learned yet another crucial lesson – the importance of the elderly in our lives.

After a few weeks of chatting after mass I learned that Art was going in for dialysis three times a week and I began to visit him on Saturdays when I could. We would talk for four hours, but often it seemed like only four minutes. At 85 years young, as he always likes to remind me, Arthur Daravanis has seen this world change immensely. He has seen a world war, the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, the Great Depression and the exponential progression of how we communicate with each other. He has also seen many changes in the immediacy of his own life. He played college baseball at Illinois State, he owned a restaurant and he moved to Pittsburgh with a woman he met on a retreat and lived there with her for over forty years. Although we both talk, I find myself mostly listening as he tells me about life, love, and the importance of taking the time to care for others.

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Paola, Arthur, and Paola from when the two Paola’s visited Chicago.

Despite all he had been through and all he had seen, Art tells me that nothing brings him greater joy than practicing empathy and giving back. When I think about the realization I made in the car that day I was driving back from Michigan City, I see that I sometimes allow myself to think that I have all the answers – that I know everything. But that is surely not the case. When I take a moment to actually listen to my grandma, or reflect on what Arthur and I talk about, or even mirror the positive attitude of a person I’m visiting at a nursing home, I realize that there is wisdom behind these words. The shame is society often marginalizes the elderly and dismisses them as useless when they are actually a bountiful source of joy, energy, and knowledge with still a lot left to give.

This is invaluable in such an instantaneous world, where much more self-reflection and patience is needed amongst us all. The elderly can help us with these things and we can come to realizations about the relationships in our lives before it is too late. And not just the already established relationships we have, which can always use some polishing, but with the people we have yet to seek out. The thousands of friends we have yet to make across the world. I truly believe this is after meeting Arthur, my personal example of how someone who I have very little in common with, can teach me something about making the world a better place. And for some elderly who are unfortunately entrenched in closed-mindedness from fears that they were never able to overcome, they still have valuable things to teach us about the world. In conjunction with the desires for pluralism of our generation, I truly feel we can make significant progress towards a peaceful existence in the decades to come.

So, in a world where our headlines can look like this;

“DOJ Says South Dakota Holds Thousands in Group Homes Unnecessarily…”
“Conditions Deteriorate In Aleppo As Syrian Forces And Rebels Drop Bombs…”
“Weekend violence pushes number of people shot in Chicago this year to 2,100…”
“Orlando shooting: 49 killed at gay nightclub…”
“Grief in Baton Rouge days after Alton Sterling shooting…”
“Dallas Sniper Attack: 5 Officers Killed…”

Let us take pause. Let us say hi to the young girl we ride the same bus with everyday and ask her how school is going. Let us help the elderly woman we see struggling up the stairs as we ask how her day has been. Let us invite our new, quiet male co-worker out to happy hour. And let us find friendships in all groups of society by realizing that despite some struggles unique to certain groups, we all share many of the same challenges and we all have the capacity for empathy and friendship.

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Arthur and I during a dialysis visit.

Youth for Peace-Bountiful Possibility

Ashly Uss, Boston                                                                                                                            Community of Sant’Egidio | July 6, 2016

Youth for Peace is more than a movement; it is a promise. My route to the Community of Sant’Egidio and Youth for Peace was beautifully unexpected. At the start of my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the Community of Sant’Egidio by a wonderful professor. She is the embodiment of relentless compassion and loyalty to God. I was first introduced to the Youth for Peace movement at the 2016 Easter Retreat in Boston. Since those few days in March, I have been blessed by the grace of God to have a second family, a union of like-minded young adults with a burning desire to serve in friendship with the poor.

As a pre-school teacher in a low-income community in Boston, I never fail to be amazed by the vibrancy and passion of the young children I work with. Only in a preschool classroom will you find human beings so ecstatic to see a worm in the mud, a rainbow in the sky or a fun shaped Cheez-It. Enthusiasm and resiliency are in full abundance among preschool children; it is the reason I cherish working with children so fondly. Adults; however, are often tarnished or burdened by the adversity in our world. Interestingly enough, the older we get, the more indifferent we become. Going through life has a way of distancing people from their joys and passions, and often from God. It is for this reason that we can learn a lot from the youthfulness and joys of God’s love.

See, one of the greatest things about young children is their ability to dream. In addition to the joy and authenticity with which they greet life, they are often vivid dreamers and hopeful believers in their world. I have realized that in order to befriend the elderly in Cambridge, or volunteer alongside homeless women and children, I have to remain youthful and hopeful. I must find enthusiasm and joy in the agape– the true love of friendship with the poor.

God is love. We know that God is love as Christians, yet we sometimes fail to embrace the true love at its ultimate, agape love. Agape love is one of the strongest and most significant forms of love that exists. It is a love that encourages us to surrender our will to others, as referenced in John’s teachings of the New Testament. It is due to my involvement with Youth for Peace that I am able to embrace this powerful kind of love. It is this kind of love which roots the great work done by Sant’Egidio communities worldwide. It is agape love which fuels the Sant’Egidio traditions like the Christmas Day luncheon, the annual summer picnic and more.

As a member of the Youth for Peace movement, I promise to face my service and relationships with the enthusiasm of a young child, with dreams of bountiful possibility for those who are marginalized, oppressed and voiceless. I also encourage each of us, whether we are youthful or elderly- to face this aching world with the same excitement. Amidst the war, terror and suffering are meaningful friendships, admirable servants of God and most importantly- hope. 

 

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