DENVER—One of Christ in the City’s “friends on the street,” those experiencing homelessness, described their ministry of encounter in the words, “If you don’t love yourself, come here and they’ll love you until you can.” For her, it has been tremendously impactful to be seen, known, and loved in the midst of her homelessness; in short, she appreciated being treated like a person again.
Christ in the City is a Catholic missionary formation and homeless outreach program headquartered in Denver, Colorado, with the mission of knowing, loving, and serving the poor. Young people from across the country—many from the Diocese of Bridgeport—volunteer to give a portion of their lives in service to those most in need, whether for a week-long mission trip, a Summer of Service, or a Year (or two) of Service.
Missionaries with Christ in the City hit the streets to encounter those experiencing homelessness in the neighborhoods where they live, eat, and pass their time. They get to know these “friends on the street,” asking them questions, chatting with them, learning their names and stories. Missionaries “strive to form intentional, authentic relationships with those that we encounter,” said André Escaleira, Jr., a second-year missionary from Bridgeport. “These friendships take time to develop, because it takes time to build trust with our homeless friends on the street.” But by putting in the work and coming to know their homeless friends more deeply, missionaries are able to love them better; by loving them, missionaries can serve their friends more authentically.
This kind of love—given and received both on the streets and within the missionary community—is deeply formative. It is very common for missionaries to experience their own brokenness and need for mercy in the midst of encountering and loving friends on the street who need reconciliation just as much. “More than anything,” said Madeleine Veith, an alumna from Fairfield, “after two years of service, my homeless friends taught me to see the similarities and parallels in my own brokenness, and to be vulnerable with them and others so that they could love and accompany me too.” Recognizing that need for mercy and reconciliation, missionaries encounter the Father in and through their friends on the street. “As we hit the streets,” Escaleira said, “we see incarnated the Lord’s love and mercy. We can’t help but realize that if we love our friends on the street as much as we do, how much more the Father must love them – and us!”
These encounters with God, self, and others—both on the streets and in community—facilitate the formation of the Christ in the City missionaries, but all is rooted in prayer. Missionaries begin and end each day in prayer, offering up to God the work that they do. Through this prayer, missionaries grow in their relationships with God; as they grow in this way, they grow closer together in community too. “I realized how necessary it is for any community, any family unit, to pray together,” said Brianna Farens, an alumna from Shelton. “There is definitely something supernaturally unifying in spending so much time in silence at Christ’s Feet. This was the source and depth of everything good in community life.”
Rooting everything in prayer, a unity comes about in the Christ in the City community. This unity allows the missionaries a certain freedom to be authentic. “The growth all of us summer missionaries experienced was only possible because we all slowly allowed ourselves to take off the masks we so often wear around others, and just be our real, vulnerable selves,” said Sean Fahey, an Immaculate High School graduate who served with Christ in the City in Manhattan this summer. “In community, I learned that the Christian life is one lived with and for others,” said Abby Baker, who, from Danbury, also served in Manhattan this summer.
Young people, formed to be lifelong missionaries through their work with Christ in the City, are being sent back out: to their college campuses, to their workplaces, to their homes. Inspired by their work with those in need and by their time in authentic, intentional community, “we desire to live this mission of loving the person in front of us by listening, talking, and sometimes getting rained on,” said Baker. It involves patience, detachment, and a lot of prayer. But in this way, missionaries and alumni of Christ in the City strive to love others—experiencing homelessness and not—with the love of Christ, loving them fiercely until they can love themselves too.