Friday, October 12, 2012

Rocky Mountain High

This past June, I went on the Catholic Studies Leadership Interns bi-annual trip to Denver, CO. I could probably write an entire 10-page essay on all the things we did, not to mention how it all impacted me, but for your sake I will try to give you the abbreviated version.

All the interns when we spent a day visiting with the Little Sisters of the Poor and even put on a talent show for them!

The year’s theme for the Interns was “charity,” and what better place to see that in practice than at one of the nation’s most active and thriving Catholic Charities location in Denver, CO.?  On May 22nd, thirty college students, one priest, and I got on a plane for the Rocky Mountains, looking forward to a 10-day trip that ended up changing my life and my views on everything.

The common sentiment among the Interns in years past has been “not much of what we learn throughout the year will make sense until the Spring Institute at the end. Then it will all just click.” How true that is. Now don’t get me wrong, I learned plenty of things throughout the year, very informative and helpful things from how to run a Christ-centered business, to why marriage between a man and a woman matters, to what my temperament is and how that can play out while being a leader. Before this year I thought charity meant giving money to the poor and collecting canned goods. However, the overall theme and meaning of charity came alive for me because of our trip to Denver.

The ten days were anything but boring. Our schedules were jam-packed with visits to the happening places in the Archdiocese, monumental Churches, homeless shelters, informational sessions at Catholic Charities as well as a talent show, dinners out, and intense games of Mafia. We also spent most of our time with missionaries there who were part of a program called “Christ in the City.” They hosted us, showed us the town, taught us about their ministry and shared their world with us. In fact, their witness had such a great impact on our group that after the visit, three of the Interns decided to do a year of missionary work with them!

We traveled around in 15 passenger vans, always sure to make an entrance.
 The most influential moment of the trip came when we were to live a day in the life of a missionary by participating in “Street Walking.” This is when you walk the main roads of downtown Denver and just spend time with those on the streets there. I. Was. Terrified. I seriously contemplated saying I was sick so that I wouldn’t have to go. I had never done anything like this before and I feared the worst. What if they ignore me, are rude to me or ridicule me for thinking I could make a difference? We were all worried at first, “what if we go up to someone and they’re not actually homeless?”  That definitely happened a few times, and someone even asked an intern if she was homeless! Sometimes you would say hello to someone and they would take that invitation, run with it and talk unceasingly for hours. Others wouldn’t even look you in the eye or say a word. But what we learned was that the most valuable thing you can give someone experiencing homelessness is your time. To show that someone cares about them, that they are not forgotten, that they indeed still possess an inherent dignity. Just stopping to say hello is huge. Most people ignore them and walk past like they don’t even exist.

One of my favorite guys, Mike.

We met people from all walks of life, with all types of personalities. Some people were very hopeful, positive, cheerful, and faithful. Others were very desperate, rude and angry. Some people had excellent grammar and manners, others were disabled and in wheel chairs. But this exercise taught me more than just to spend time with the downtrodden. It taught me that the dignity of the human person is most important and it needs to be cherished and upheld at all times—whether it is the person experiencing homelessness on the street, or the person walking by him in a Gucci suit on his way to a business meeting. Their soul is more important than their current state of life.  Christ calls me to, no, rather, Christ demands me to do what I can with what I have to preserve that.

Through the Leadership Interns program, I have come to learn what charity really means. It is not only a big benefit one attends once a year, but rather a lifestyle. We are called to act charitably by making small sacrifices for those around us. To speak charitably to all those we interact with by being loving, kind and uplifting, and to honor, praise and glorify He who is charity Himself.

(Originally written for the Catholic Studies Blog on October 9, 2012)

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