Denver Headlights 2022: Day 5
Today was the last day of our mission trip to Denver. While we’re all a little sad to be leaving this place behind, I think I can safely say that we won’t forget the experiences we’ve had. It has truly been a blessing to serve with the missionaries at Christ in the City, sharing in their communal prayer and daily life and encountering the homeless with them.
We began the day, as usual, with morning prayer and breakfast, and then headed back out to the streets for a morning of street ministry. After staying up until 2:30 Wednesday night playing games, the 5 hours of sleep we got was very welcome by comparison. After breakfast, I headed to Park Avenue with Colleen, James, and Felicia.
One of the things that I’ve been reflecting on this week and that I was particularly struck by in my interactions today is how much more human so many of our friends on the street are than us. While they may be poor in their material circumstances, they are certainly not poor spiritually. Many of these people have a deep faith and understanding of purpose that is truly remarkable.
One man that we met this morning, Marshall, made some truly insightful comments as he reflected on his past and the circumstances he was in. He told us how it was difficult for him to readjust to having his own place to stay (he had recently been taken into housing but had gone back to the streets), and talked about how society misunderstands the homeless because of their appearance. He also shared with us that he was still trying to realize his own value, which I found very profound, given that Christ in the City’s whole mission revolves around restoring the full human dignity and self-worth of the homeless. Although he didn’t put it this way, Marshall believed that people need to learn to understand each other by looking at the world in each other’s shoes, and that sometimes we need to believe we are worthy in order to be worthy. In his own words, “Sometimes you have to pretend you’re a cowboy, that you won the West, but you didn’t win the whole world.”
Later in the morning, we came across Shari and Paul, a married couple living in a tent near Benedict Park. It was definitely heartbreaking to see the conditions that they lived in, and it was difficult to have a conversation with someone when all we could see was a hand reaching out of a pile of tarps. However, their witness was truly inspiring, the fact that they had chosen to live together and stick out for each other even in the harsh living conditions of homelessness. Paul, an ex-convict, had developed an addiction and was still on parole, making it hard for him to get out of his condition, and his wife, although she could have easily made her way out of her homeless situation on her own, had chosen to stay with him even through this. It was also really beautiful and heartwarming when Shari recognized Colleen’s voice through the tent, even though they had only become acquainted a week earlier.
In the afternoon, we listened to a talk on how we can each find our own Calcutta after returning home from this mission trip, and translate the experiences we have had here into a new way of approaching the way we live in our own communities, families, college campuses, and cities. We then had adoration and mass at Our Lady of Carmel, and returned to the house to eat dinner.
Tonight was also my night to do night ministry. While some of the other students went to St. John Vianney to visit our seminarians from the Diocese of Helena, Fatima and I went with a group of students and missionaries to 16th street, where we walked down the mall at night looking for people to talk to. We encountered one young man named Gerald who was playing an amazing drum solo on a couple of buckets to make money, and we also spoke to his friend who was trying to sell a bike. We also met a woman named Nick who had just been let out of prison and was looking for a place to stay, and were able to direct her to some other resources, and a friend of hers, Jacob, who was a street preacher for the Scum of the Earth Church and offered some insightful comments on the Cross after telling us in tears how his wife had cheated on him and how important faithfulness and the dignity of women was to him.
As I look back on the experiences we have all had this week, I feel so blessed and glad that I made the choice to come here to Denver for my spring break, and to make a beautiful yes to God by that decision. I am so blessed to have come with such an amazing group of people, and to have met so many other amazing people here, and I could not have imagined this week going any other way. I hope God has brought some good about by our presence here, and that he will continue to work in our hearts and in the hearts of all those whom we served. Perhaps some of us may even find ourselves back here sometime in the future. This trip has really pushed me to see things differently and to better understand my brothers and sisters on the street, and to approach community and relationship with others in an entirely new light, and I pray God continues to work with these new beginnings.
peace in Christ,
The final day of the our mission was by far the most impactful for me.
The street walk today was in downtown Denver. We first encountered a duo known on the streets as Irish and Chino. Their optimism, friendship, and desire to better the community in spite of their circumstances were both heart warming and inspiring. Additionally, Chino was a very talented artist and drew some pretty hilarious caricatures of our group. We later helped an elderly homeless man walk to the hospital. Along the way, we offered to pray for him and, on the verge of tears, he sang a beautiful gospel rendition of the Our Father in thanksgiving for the prayers.
I also had the opportunity to do night ministry in Boulder. Although it was a nice part of town, there were still homeless. We were able to buy coffee and a tuna melt for one man and converse with him for around an hour.
Sorry for posting so late. We had some interesting experiences on the drive back from Denver this weekend. When we made it to Cheyenne on Saturday, it turned out that Wyoming was closed due to road conditions and weather, so we ended up taking an extra day to get home to Helena. We had to drive back to Denver and cut across to Salt Lake City, spending the night Saturday at a Super 8 in Price, Utah. While this was an exhausting experience, the drive back was still full of blessings, as we had lots of extra bonding time and great car conversations, and a beautiful drive through the Rockies of Colorado. Thanks be to God for bringing us back safely! – Chris
Chicago 2022 Headlights, Day 3, March 8
Today started similar to yesterday with Mass, then we quickly ate and headed to helping with the Food Pantry.
The food pantry is where anyone who needs food can come on Tuesdays and get as much as they need for no cost to them. There was essentially 3 classrooms full of food and the neighbors (how the Sisters refer to those who they serve) go through with a cart assembly line style. We served 330 families today from 7:30 -10:30 am.
I was assigned to handing out dates (the fruit) and navy beans. It was such a fun and joyful time. I really enjoyed handing out food as well as having conversations with them. The majority of the neighbors spoke Spanish which made it hard for me with little Spanish to communicate but my holding up the foods skills allowed me to hand out my whole stash of dates and beans. It was a great morning! -Riley Dowdy
I was outside Our Lady of the Angels retreat center helping people pack up food. Members of the community brought the carts down the ramp to us and gave them a number, they were to take this number, go retrieve their car and drive it in front of the retreat center where we would load there cars with the food that we boxed up. It was lovely to see the kindness and warmth that they showed all of us, it was truly awe inspiring. -Connor Bawden
Then tonight, we went to St. Barbra’s church for another Night of Mercy. This is a primarily Chinese Catholic community so we started with Chinese food for dinner and then went to our assigned positions for the evening. The Franciscan’s goal of these evenings is to bring awareness and exposure to the Eucharist to as many people as possible. People to walk around the neighborhood to invite, greet, hand out candles for people to light for an intention, organize confession lines, and hand out hot coco. It was a beautiful church and evening. We are really enjoying seeing many different churches and communities.
Over and out – Riley and Conner
Denver Headlights 2022: Day 2
Today has been a long and tiring, yet beautiful day. We started the day with morning prayer at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. After prayer, I had the privilege to cook breakfast for the other retreatants and the missionaries hosting us. From the food donated this week we were able to make breakfast sandwiches, bacon and even had some strawberries which was a real treat. After breakfast, we all got ready and headed out to the streets to meet some of our homeless friends.
The first place my group visited was a set of tents located under a bridge. We stopped at each tent offering socks, gloves or water. There was a couple living in one of the tents and we were able to have a good conversation with them. Kim had a little dog she introduced us to named Diamond. After the tents, we walked down several streets where shelters, missions, and other services were located. We met several different people and talked to them about the weather and where they were from or if they liked certain things about the city. One encounter was particularly tough for my group today. A friend was sitting in a wheelchair outside of one of the missions. She had various items laying all around her on the sidewalk. She was talking to us but in a way that was mostly incoherent. The goal of street ministry is to try and make the homeless feel both seen and heard. It made me very sad to see this woman in her pain but be unable to communicate with her. Eventually we simply had to move on and engage other friends in the area.
The last place we stopped on the street walk was the St. Francis Center. Many friends were at the center today and were outside enjoying the sunshine. One person outside of the building was a long-time friend of Christ in the City. He was so happy and excited to share with us how he had recently received housing and would soon be able to start helping out some of his family members. My high point of the day came shortly after this encounter. A woman named Braids came over to us and she was playing some bluesy-jazz music. She had a big smile on her face and was dancing down the sidewalk saying hi to all of her friends. Soon after meeting, I found myself dancing with Braids as we started to get to know each other. She told me how all her friends hang out at the St. Francis Center and she gets to see them all the time. They recently had to move their hang out location from the parks but were still able to retain their community at this new spot. Braids told me she was the person who always brought the party; it wasn’t a party unless she was there. She also shared with me things about her family and friends and the ways she was able to care for them as we bopped and swayed along to the music together.
I know Christ was walking with me today, both in the highs and the lows. I could see His suffering in the woman we could not communicate with. But I also saw His joy when Braids came over to me dancing and we were able to enter in to a relationship through a common interest. The people I encountered today have shown me how positive and happy they can be, even in a state where they have seemingly nothing. They are able to share a simile with you and dance even in the stark face of adversity they wake up to each and every day. On top of it all, God showed me how those living on the street may be in physical poverty, but not spiritual poverty.
As we continue on this week, I am in joyful anticipation of what else Christ has to teach me and the ways He will call me to go deeper. I can only imagine what is in store. I am excited to go where Jesus calls me to and to continue encountering Him in our friends on the street.
Hi to everyone who’s reading!
Our second full day is coming to an end here at Christ in the City yet, in some ways, it feels like we’ve been here longer. Today, like every day here on out, started with a morning prayer at a near by church, breakfast, and chores. After that we headed out to the streets in groups for about three hours meeting at the Cathedral at noon. Then lunch, a short lecture on poverty, ‘debriefing’ in our street groups, some free time, dinner, and movie night – which I skipped since I saw the chosen movie just three weeks ago.
Heading to the streets, I tried not to have any expectations other than it being tough to see such harsh conditions up close: Living on the streets, in early March, in Denver Colorado. We started out just after 9 am by walking under a bridge surrounded by driveways, the 20th St. route. Though several tents were up, it was presumably a little early as only two answered our calls; “Hello there, do you need any gloves or water?” etc.
Before going into what I found impactful – experiences, thoughts, conversations – I’d like to name as many people as I can: Kim & Cash and Diamond-dog. Vaughn. Sierra. Adam. Frosty. Braids.
The mission at Christ in the City is to encounter the people without a home as persons, individuals. And while they do keep gloves, water, blankets, granola bars, and the like with them, the main goal is to engage in conversations: to acknowledge, serve, rather than fix. Even though I knew this before going out, even before signing up for the trip, it frustrated me a little more than I thought it would: Going up to someone who barely has enough to survive the day, let alone the cold nights, and starting up a conversation that you know will end in you leaving – how do you not feel useless? Luckily for me, one of the first people we talked to, Vaughn, thanked us for “just being nice to” him saying that even that helped a lot. Even though it was just one person without a home, I will hold onto the hope that others like him also find comfort in conversation alone.
Another encounter that stayed with me was Frosty. He talked a lot, about a lot, and in two different languages. He talked about religions and how they relate to each other, how essentially religions are a way for people to find meaning, purpose, in life. However, at one point Frosty said, “I’ve sinned, that’s why I’m here.”, referring to being on the streets, homeless. Though there is something admirable in taking responsibility for your own actions, I don’t believe any society is equal enough, in terms of opportunity or second chances, that the only one to blame is yourself. In other words: There are too many people who have, without a doubt, violated ethics and laws in worse ways than many of the homeless yet have immense monetary wealth, for me to fully believe that. Still, to end on a lighter note, there is community, joy, hope to be found in the streets as well: Whether its 50+ year old Braids saying they’re the “life of the party” in their family and dancing to bluesy-jazz music; or a puppy dog in a tent with Kim & Cash putting a smile on everyone’s face; or the shyest “thank you” for stopping and talking for a minute from Vaughn.
Denver Headlights 2022: Day 1
Good Evening to whomever finds this blog.
In the beginning, there was Chris and the Carroll Crew. For the past three weeks, we prayed and prepared for our departure to Headlights by looking at Catholic Social Teaching and creating community within our group. After hours of treacherous driving conditions through the great states of Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, Carroll College has finally found themselves in the safety of Christ In The City in Denver. The drive down was quite eventful: musical melodies, subway stop in Buffalo WY, Tokyo Drift on the ice, stopping at Chugwater WY with an assortment of scriptural jellies, and the casual drive through the city of Denver. 14 hours later, we finally pulled into to our new home for the week, greeted with open arms and a nice dinner. Over the next hour, other schools joined arrived including: University of Virginia, Florida Atlantic University, Pittsburg University, and University of Pennsylvania.
After a refreshing sleep, we attended two talks to start our day. The two talks consisted of an introduction to Christ In The City Ministries and love in regards to friendship with others and Jesus. Next on the agenda was a fulfilling breakfast followed by our third talk on how to how to minister on the street. Our holy hour and mass were a nice time to sit down and re-center our lives in preparation for the week.
The main focus for the day was the street tour through part of the city, which was all about introducing us to the environment that the homeless are living in and trying to build an understanding of their situations. The tour was eye-opening and really made us appreciate what we have in our own lives. Our homeless friends have to look for a place to settle each night, but the city doesn’t make it easy for them. Many of these places are isolated and hidden from regular eyes, giving the impression that our friends don’t want to be seen. The thought was heartbreaking and difficult to process. We, as humans, are drawn for social interaction. We yearn to be seen and be acknowledged. We want to be loved. This is was drives our lives. Those on the streets don’t receive any of that. They are looked down upon, disregarded in society, or just plainly seen as a burden to the public well-being. The city does what it can to prevent homeless populations from staying in public areas and whether it be for safety or just to prevent a potential camp spot, so those looking for homes resort to poor living conditions. Some of these areas consist of being under bridges with rough ground or pigeons to one person climbing onto the cables of a bridge to get as far away from people as possible. This is not at all what God wants for His sons and daughters. Jesus came and taught us to love one another with all our hearts, as brothers and sisters. We need to be there for our friends and LOVE them.
The walk made me realize the importance of love and community. It made me realize that we all need to be seen and heard. It made me realize that no matter who I am and what my social status or living status may be, I am a human being with dignity and deserving of love and respect. These people lives lives most of us can’t even imagine or understand. The thought of living each day not knowing where the next meal will be or where to sleep is truly saddening. I am grateful for what God has given me in my life and I know that I need to not take them for granted.
When we have our first day of street ministry, I am looking forward to making connections with our homeless friends. I am prepared to live the way of the Lord as best as I can. I know that we are loved and that God loves us, and I want to make sure that every human being knows this. It is our duty to lift one another up in a loving way and only through our own actions can we make this world a more loving place.
Denver 2020 Day 4
Thursday was a lot of fun. We went hiking on the Waterton trail. It was beautiful, we saw mountain goats and waded in the snowmelt fed river. It was great to get out of the city for a bit and experience nature. It has been an amazing week and seeing the joy of creation really helps focus our mission in the city. It was a great way to regroup and get ready for our last day of street ministry.
Denver 2020 Day 3
Today was our third full day with Christ in the City, and it was quite eventful. The day started with morning prayer and mass at St. Patrick’s Church, followed by breakfast back at the CIC house with all the missionaries and mission troopers (us!). We then spent the next few hours preparing for the weekly Lunch in the Park that Christ in the City puts on. Mission troopers were assigned to all kinds of jobs in preparation for lunch. Rachel and I were assigned to the donations team, where we helped Jude and Angelique pack crates full of men’s and women’s clothes/shoes to bring with us. Then, we headed to the park! As I looked around the park at all the missionaries, mission troopers, and our new friends on the street, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. The moments shared between our new friends were an incredible image of the love we are called to give to others. It reminded me of a classic Father Marc quote, “God loves you exactly where you are, but He loves you way too much to let you stay there.” We are called to love like He loves; we are called to love people right where they are and we are called to bring them higher. It was beautiful to watch and participate in loving people right where they are. After Lunch in the Park, we spent some time with just the ladies and shared our thoughts about authentic friendships and the goodness that comes when we pursue friendships rooted in Christ. We ended the day with night prayer back at St. Patrick’s, adoration at the CIC house, and an hour of praise and worship. As I reflect on our time with CIC thus far, I keep coming back to the profound joy I’ve felt this week, today especially. Joy fell over the entirety of Lunch in the Park and was present in all of the conversations and moments we shared today. What I have come to realize even more after today’s experiences is that when people fix their eyes on Christ and love like He loves, they can easily love others well and bring joy into every encounter.
Today we had an opportunity to serve our friends on the street lunch in the park. What a gift it was to see so many people from different backgrounds gather together and share a meal. I met multiple people while handing out bananas in the lunch line and as a took a moment to look around I saw so many beautiful encounters and realized that our friends on the street are no different than you or I. Sure, they may have a variety of struggles, but don’t we all? Each and everyone of us is longing to be called by named and to be loved. It was uncomfortable at first, but when I looked these people on the eyes, I saw Jesus and heard Him say to me what He said in the gospel passage from Monday, ” Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Denver 2020 Day Two
This morning we went out on our first street walk and I have already felt such a change in perspective through the different people that we encountered. I feel so privileged to be able to listen to these people’s stories as they are so eager to open up to us. I think the biggest surprise for me was how easily they were able to make themselves vulnerable to us. Having someone just be present with them and listen to them is something that many of these people lack. Being able to sit with these people and converse with them really opened my eyes to some of the fundamental parts of what makes us all human. I’m so looking forward to what God has in store for the rest of this week and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to engage in fellowship with other Christians as well as with a community that I may not have found myself in communication with otherwise.
Denver 2020, Day One
Today we experienced our first street walk. This included us going out on street routes walked by the missionaries in teams to talk to those experiencing homelessness to offer what every human heart longs for, to be seen, known and loved. Before we go out, it is absolutely necessary for us to go to prayer first. This morning we started in prayer, allowing for an hour of prayer. Why is this necessary? Because we cannot give what we do not have; we must receive love from our life source to go and give it to others. During the street walk my group encountered five individuals. There was one gentleman that moved my heart in a particular way. He told us he had his bag and sleeping bag stolen and that last night was really hard because it was so cold. He spoke more on his lack of luck, but ended by saying, “the Lord has blessed me so much this past week and I am thankful.” This struck me to the core as he could have looked at where he was at and said it’s hopeless, but yet, he chose to find the good and see where the lord is moving in his life. This is a testament to how the Lord offers hope in every situation. We must keep our eyes fixed on the Lord even when it is hard to see the good.
Denver Day 5, 2018
There are few things more ordinary than encountering Christ. Few are blessed with burning bushes or angelic annunciations. While there is nothing wrong with waiting for such grandiose revelations of divinity, in doing so we often run the risk of missing the fact that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:21). In our expectation that God manifest Himself in the miraculous, we can overlook his true dwelling place: the normal, the pedestrian, the simple.
This was a lesson we all learned well during this last week with Christ in the City. The work we did was not spectacular, and the changes we effected are not tangible, yet as we came into contact with those we were servicing, we came face-to-face with Jesus. Several of us met people this week who exemplified Christ-like joy, peace, and wisdom to an incredible degree (in fact, a handful of our patrons quoted scripture with the ease of biblical scholars). Indeed, I would say most of us left our conversations more impacted than they. Based on our experience, there is no doubt that as we enter into communion with those discarded by society, we enter into relationship with the Almighty. “As you did to one of the least of these my, brothers, you did to me” (Matt. 25:40). Beneath the grime and knotted hair of the homeless truly hides the smiling face of Jesus.
We came to understand the unassuming nature of God’s self-disclosure during a hike that took place later in the week as well. The quiet beauty of nature juxtaposed with the chaos of Denver was breathtaking (even despite the fact that we weren’t in Big Sky Country). Though impressive, the views we enjoyed never demanded our appreciation. The Creator was present in the mountain air and the dense forestry, but such things are often taken for granted or ignored. As with the homeless, nature contains and conceals God in plain sight.
Since these examples mean nothing if we are unable to pinpoint the foundational practice in identifying God in the ordinary, I would like to posit such a cornerstone: humility. If we only allow God to speak to us in specific (i.e. magnificent) ways, then we put God in a box—a great expression of pride. “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in a cloak” (1 Kg. 20:4). On the other hand, when we are willing to become broken bread and poured-out wine, we allow ourselves to come into contact with God. Therefore, I believe that we are all thankful for the opportunity that Christ in the City has blessed us with—namely, the opportunity to humbly serve and thereby experience God. May this lesson—taught by trees and those on the streets—be one that sticks with us long after this week.
Denver Day 3
Wednesday, March 7, 2018:
Rose Labadini, Allison Gilbert
Tuesday night, after the last blog post was written, we had karaoke with everyone at Christ in the City. Many laughs were exchanged, and the grand finale included our very own Faith, Sarah, Layne, and Reed! They killed a rendition of Chicken Fried by the Zac Brown Band. It was a lot of fun!
Fast forward to this morning, in which we woke up and went to Mass. It was great! Father John (a Capuchin priest from India) gave a homily about our dedication to our faith. He then went on to describe how we should, as stated in the first reading, pass on God’s laws to our children and our children’s children. He ended his homily with a statement about how we should not be afraid to have a boat load of children (not just yet… don’t worry mom, it’s not that kind of trip ☺ -Rose), in which uncomfortable laughter ensued.
Later Wednesday afternoon, we went to Lunch in the Park, which is a “feed” for the homeless population of Denver. It allows Christ in the City missionaries and mission troops to reconnect with our homeless friends that we had previously made as well as others that we were meeting for the first time. We were given the opportunity to engage in conversation with our friends while serving them a meal.
Allison: At Lunch in the Park, I spoke to two older men and friends, Bart and Steve. They emphasized the ungratefulness that many privileged people face. Despite the limitless opportunities that numerous families are given, we still find ways to complain about the small belongings that we lack. Steve has been living on the streets of Denver for 34 years, which has given him such great insights on the selfishness frequently exhibited by U.S. citizens. In our group discussions following the street walks, we talked about the difference between fulfilling physical and spiritual needs of our homeless friends. We are enabled to assist in initially providing physical needs (food, drink, clothing) to an extent, as it is often necessary before meeting other needs. We were made aware of our homeless friends’ need for relationships with others and a search for a deeper truth.
Rose: I spoke to Mark, Sam, and Frank and learned quite a bit about each of their lives. Mark spoke about how he’d moved around the US quite a bit and how he really fell in love with Denver, he and I became fast friends and he asked if he would see me at the feed next week and I had to sadly decline. Frank gave me insight on how suffering is good for people so that they don’t get caught up in material things. He and I spoke about Jesus and how His love is all we need, and we can get closer to him by serving others. Sam and I spoke about his life and how he loved Denver and his previous profession as a set designer and costumer, which is something I related to having a slight background in technical theater, and it was amazing to see his face light up, because someone was talking to him. You could tell by his eyes that not many people had spoken to him recently, but he had the most gentle eyes I have ever seen on a person. It was amazing to be able to connect with these men today, as well as serving those who I did not get to meet by name, but have a shared love for.