Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Strengthening Franciscan Values Through Christian Service Immersion


By Andy Burghdorf '00, St. Francis High School
Pasadena NOW

Although Skid Row is only a short thirty minute car ride from St. Francis High School’s La Canada Flintridge campus, the suffering and desperation that permeates the nation’s largest stable population of homeless persons often seems a world away. However, the harsh reality of such a disparity came to life for thirteen St. Francis students on Monday, April 9, 2012, when they participated in the school’s Christian Service Immersion (CSI) program which landed them at The Midnight Mission on the corner of 6th Street and San Pedro in downtown Los Angeles.

Here are some staggering figures: According to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, on any given night in Los Angeles . . .
• Just over 43,000 people are homeless, almost 20% of these families with children, the highest homeless population for any major metropolitan area in the country.
• Another 16% to 20% of homeless adults are employed in low paying jobs.
• 42% are chronically homeless individuals having one or more serious handicaps such as mental illness, substance abuse, or a physical disability.
• 18% of L.A. County residents and 25% of L.A. County’s children live below the poverty line.
• 73% of low-income renters pay more than 50% of their earnings in rent.

While thirty students from St. Francis are off on a pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis, these thirteen young men participated in an urban pilgrimage much closer to home. As participants of the CSI program, each student volunteered to spend part of their Easter vacation serving those in need on Skid Row. The students visited the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Cardinal Manning Center and delivered socks from a recent campus sock drive.

For more than fifty years the Cardinal Manning Center has been a constant, reliable presence for homeless people in the Skid Row Area of Downtown Los Angeles. As noted on their website, the Center’s primary goals are to enable homeless men, women and children to:

• stabilize their life circumstances
• regain their self-sufficiency, and
• find permanent housing & employment

Manuel Sanchez, the organization’s Youth & Young Adult Services Coordinator, walked the students through Skid Row and educated them on the issues and concerns affecting the homeless and needy. After walking throughout the area, the young men returned to The Midnight Mission to help prepare and serve lunch for close to 1,000 people. Throughout the day the students also had the opportunity to listen to and talk with those affected by poverty and struggling with hopelessness.

St. Francis High School is dedicated to ensuring that the values taught by St. Francis to his brothers, steeped in the virtues taught by Jesus Christ to his disciples, are incorporated in everything that we do. St. Francis put Jesus’ teachings into action by serving those who were marginalized in Assisi and the surrounding areas. He reached out to the lepers, preached the Gospel with inspired words to those who had not heard, and rebuilt the church by building community and reevaluating one’s relationship with nature. Jesus taught, and St. Francis reiterated, that an appropriate response to the Gospel is rooted in performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as well as works toward social justice. It is our hope that the Christian Service Immersion program provides a solid foundation for the Franciscan values that our school is built upon.

About the Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Los Angeles

For more than 100 years, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Los Angeles has provided programs and services for children, the homeless and the poor within the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara that are free of charge regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, handicap or national origin. These programs and services include the operation of St. Vincent’s Cardinal Manning Center for emergency and transitional housing, Circle V Ranch Camp for disadvantaged and at-risk children, St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store (which also distributes clothes, furniture and appliances free of charge to the needy), a winter shelter in Ventura County, a prisoner resettlement program that helps paroled inmates turn their lives around, and more than 100 community-based conferences of lay volunteers that furnish direct assistance and referrals to poor individuals and families throughout the above mentioned counties since 1908.

Photo: St. Francis High School student-participants of the CSI program, each student volunteered to spend part of their Easter vacation serving those in need on Skid Row [Photo: Andy Burghdorf '00]

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