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National group takes to Michigan City streets to be present with homeless

 061121Christ in the City

Christ in the City missionaries Steven Caraher, Bella Worthing, and Brian Lambert begin their day’s walk in downtown Michigan City in search for homeless friends on June 4. The three, along with eight others, spent three weeks in Northwest Indiana being a presence in the lives of their new found street friends.  (Bob Wellinski photo)

 

BY BOB WELLINSKI

NWIC correspondent

 

      MICHIGAN CITY - The shade from a tall maple tree provided some relief from the scorching sun as Christ in the City missionaries Brian Lambert, Bella Worthing and Steven Caraher sat in the grass - reminiscent of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel - listening intently to “Matthew” (who asked not to be identified), one of the homeless people - referred to as street friends - who the missionaries encountered during their three-week mission.

      “Listening is the best teacher,” Matthew told the trio from one of the park benches. “The five, 10 minutes you take to listen to me, or any other person out here, could have a big impact on somebody’s life. It’s definitely made an impact on my life, and I hope I’ve made an impact on your lives.”

      Lambert, Worthing and Caraher were part of an 11-person team from the Denver-based Christ in the City, which sends out young adults to encounter the homeless. Lambert explained that the missionaries refer to those they encounter as “friends.”

       “We seek to build friendships and relationships that take time. We can use the term ‘friend’ loosely, but there are quite a few people I have met, and I can call them a friend even after I leave Christ in the City.”

      Following St. Pope John Paul II’s visit to Denver in 1993, a movement of young people to be apostles of the New Evangelization was born. By 2009, the program’s founder, Dr. Jonathan Reyes, envisioned a mission that merged evangelization with service to the poor.

      Christ in the City kicked off in 2011 with 15 young adults who committed themselves to living in community, learning about their Catholic faith and serving the poor in the Denver area.

      In 2019, missionary teams were sent out to five new cities to lead three-week summer programs, training others and making friends on the street. In the 2019-20 missionary year, the ministry grew again, forming 34 year-long missionaries who walked eight street ministry routes in Denver.

      Denver, Dayton, Los Angeles and Dallas join Michigan City as locations for the 2021 three-week summer program. The small Indiana city was chosen thanks to a request by Queen of All Saints parish, and the visit was so successful that the Christ in the City group hopes to return next year.

      Kate Dunkelberger, from Harrisburg, Penn., explained the program as more than just walking the streets and encountering homeless people. Besides putting Catholic social justice teachings into action, Christ in the City “forms young adults to understand the fullness of the Catholic faith and to know God and love him and to know they are loved by him.”

      It is based on the four pillars of formation - spiritual, intellectual, human and apostolic. Missionaries deepen their relationship with Christ through personal prayer, Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and spiritual direction. They sharpen their knowledge through accredited courses from the Augustine Institute and University of Mary.

      Lambert, of Denver, explained that the mission isn’t necessarily one of service, but more of seeing Christ in others. “Our ministry really isn’t about providing material goods, but about being present with our friends on the streets. They just want to know someone is willing to take time to listen to them and love them,” he said.

      Lambert, 24, compared listening to new friends to a Eucharistic encounter. “I’ve noticed in the past year, as I sit back and just listen, that it’s a similar experience to being in adoration. It’s a beautiful experience.”

      While in Michigan City, Dunkelberger, 23, regularly visited a soup kitchen lunch line, allowing her to “see the faces and get to know them, hearing their needs and stories.”  She shared the story of a woman who described all the bad things she had experienced, giving Dunkelberger a new perspective. “It was such an unexpected gift to hear about things I can’t imagine people going through. It’s been a powerful time for me to be here.”

      She added that Christ in the City has taught her to “look into people’s eyes more and see them as a person. It’s taught me to be a better listener and a better friend.”

      Lambert said the focus is not so much “material poverty but relational poverty — a poverty of loneliness.”

      “Matthew” shared the same thoughts on materialism. “Everything I own is right here, but I’m the richest man in the world,” he remarked while pointing to the backpack near his feet.

      Besides hitting the streets five days a week, the group encountered their friends in homeless centers and soup kitchens.

      The missionaries shared their musical talents during a concert at Michigan City’s Interfaith Community PADS (Public Action Providing Shelter) Homeless Shelter. Shelter friends gathered outdoors to listen to songs ranging from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “Brown Eyed Girl” to traditional Irish fiddle tunes, sung and played on fiddles, guitar, saxophone and percussion.

      Dunkelberger said her time with Christ in the City has taught her to “get up every day and live life, whether it’s easy or hard, happy or sad. To fight the good fight. I’ll take those lessons with me everywhere I go.” She feels called to attend medical school in hopes of “serving people who have been marginalized, excluded or underserved. I’d love to be a doctor on the street or something of that nature,” while Lambert plans to enter the seminary.

      Lambert and Dunkelberger said the group wanted to express their gratitude to the diocese, Bishop Robert J. McClory, Queen of All Saints and St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception parishes, and all who supported their visit.

      “We had such a warm welcome. We got to know a lot of great people on the streets of Michigan City and got some really great affirmation from them,” said Lambert. “Our presence seemed to be making an impact with them and it certainly has made an impact with us.”

      He added, “We were really planting a seed in hopes the greater community will follow suit. I feel if everyone would invest in one person, walk with them through the highs and lows, know their name and keep up with that person, I believe we could eliminate homelessness.”

      For more information about Christ in the City, visit christinthecity.org.

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