Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Lent 2014: Going to the margins of the archdiocese

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Pope Francis has often encouraged us to look at things from the perspective of the “margins,” so that no one is overlooked or ignored. For many, perhaps most Catholics, the center of their lives as Catholics is their parish. This is where we hear the Gospel preached each Sunday, where we receive the Lord himself in Holy Communion, where we encounter believers we know best. This is the common base for outreach through works of mercy. The parish, along with the family, is the experience of church that forms us most effectively. It is the center.

But the Archdiocese of Chicago is more than a collection of parishes. This is expressed in the generosity demonstrated in the Annual Catholic Appeal, which funds some parishes and also nonparochial ministries. It is evident most clearly and persuasively, however, when we see things from the margins, from places easily overlooked when we think of the church here. Taking up Pope Francis’ invitation, I would like to mention five of them.

I’m not sure how many Catholics know of Kolbe House, named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Franciscan imprisoned in Auschwitz, who exchanged his life for a condemned husband and father who pleaded for his life for the sake of his family. This ministry to the imprisoned is located at Assumption Parish at 2434 S. California, down the street from the Cook County Jail. It is directed by Father Arturo Perez Rodriguez, helped by Precious Blood Father David Kelly, and Deacon Pablo Perez. Its reach extends to prisoners and their families elsewhere, even outside the archdiocese. Its counterpart in Lake County, supervised by Deacon Jack Harrington, serves prisoners in the County Jail in Waukegan. Those in prison live on the margins of society.

Kateri Center, located in the former convent of St. Benedict Parish on Irving Park Road, is one of the very few ministries to urban American Indian Catholics in this country. When the peoples indigenous to this continent move, even temporarily, from the lands now reserved for them, their lives change. Their relationship to God is connected to their relationship to the land, and their religious lives need particular attention in the city. Kateri Center, named after the Mohawk virgin recently canonized, is supervised by Georgina Roy. It provides catechesis, worship, a research library and a place for Indians to be themselves. American mythology has often marginalized them.

Amate House is filled with young people, volunteers just out of college who, for a year or two, live in simplicity, in prayerful and reflective community in order to serve the poor as teachers and teacher’s aides, legal aides, youth and campus ministers and health educators. They also work with programs that assist women who have been tortured, offer their skills to non-profit organizations, and are compassionately present to the elderly and the homeless. In all this, mentored and encouraged by Deacon John Lucas, they are helped to see marginalized people differently, in the light of faith.

St. Leo Campus for Veterans, on the former site of St. Leo Parish, 7750 S. Emerald, is a complex of buildings — a residence for veterans, a second residence for those with physical disabilities, an outpatient clinic and a Veterans’ Garden. It is a ministry of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese. For many veterans, it is a place of transition, where they can be safe and treated with dignity while they find a permanent home and steady work. For some, it becomes home. Too often, those who return after fighting our wars need special help to escape being marginalized in our society.

Zacchaeus House, named after the tax collector who offered Jesus hospitality in the Gospel according to St. Luke, is in the former convent of Assumption B.V.M Parish in West Pullman. It is a ministry of the deacons of the archdiocese, one of whom, Deacon Alfred Coleman, is its director. Not a treatment center, Zacchaeus House provides a safe, supportive and spiritual home for up to two years to homeless men in transition. A man’s first 30 days in the house are structured to provide a perspective fostering life skills, spirituality, prayer and church attendance. The purpose is to help men, who would otherwise live permanently on the margins of life, transform themselves, with the help of God’s grace, into persons aware of their human dignity.

These are places, along with many others in the archdiocese, to visit at least spiritually in Lent, which is a liturgical season given us to change our perspective and get back to basics. Basics are often best discovered at the periphery, on the margins, as the pope continually reminds us. Jesus was safer in the desert than in Jerusalem, as things turned out. But he could not have made the journey up to Jerusalem and his death and resurrection without the time he spent in the desert, at the periphery. God bless you and those he has given you to love.


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