Working for justice

The 2017-18 House Of Connections Community

It has been about month since we settled into the House of Connections in Chicago and with each day comes a greater willingness to call this place home. From the moment we touched down at Chicago Midway we have been absorbed into this greater volunteer family through the incredible hospitality of Sister Marilyn Derr and Sister Bernadine Karge. For the last few weeks we have shared stories both consoling and desolating, countless laughs and numerous delicious home-cooked meals, all the while accompanying each other through this walk of life, faith and the pursuit of justice.
Something I have come to appreciate are the dinners we have cooked for each other, many of which have transported our table to various places and cultures around the world. But there is more to dinner than the food, because with good food comes good community and this has never been more evident than through how long we are together at the table each community night. Dinner may usually end around 8 o’clock, but we are immersed in conversation until 9 or after, when the impending mountain of dishes and bedtime eventually beckon us back to the kitchen. Weekends, too, have become a brief two days of solace as we embark on new adventures from rock climbing at a local bouldering gym, grabbing a beer at one of Chicago’s oldest bars, to the Jonamac Apple Orchard where we picked twenty pounds of apples, sampled ciders and hard ales, and managed to make it through a corn maze alive.
That being said, this journey hasn’t come without its problems as we encounter the roadblocks and speed bumps of settling into life in our community, and in our individual ministry sites as well. Each of us has come into this program with different personalities, life experiences and worldviews, and various ways of handling conflict. Yet, I believe that at both an individual and communal level we want to make this a life-giving experience for everyone. Things get complicated, though, when we add to this equation the stresses of daily life at work and in our personal lives. We have already endured frustrations with each other, funerals after the loss of a loved one, uncomfortable situations in the city, and times when the day, even life, is just hard.
I am working with Catholic Charities of Chicago in their Refugee Resettlement program, where I am involved in case management for refugee and asylee families, particularly issues surrounding children and youth. A particular struggle for myself is digesting the dis-ease of this work. These families, both adults and children, have endured a struggle that I cannot begin to comprehend, and then they continue to face such immense struggles when they try to resettle here in Chicago. A good way to define this dis-ease is an uneasiness or turbulence within myself, where this disorder of structure at times consumes me to the core, cripples and immobilizes me by this lack of ease internally. It is so potent when I have to be physically and emotionally present for these families and children, and it is present when I get back to community. I am not quite sure I have found enough outlets to tackle this internal dis-ease, but I continue to keep my heart and mind open as I know that working for justice is about working for someone you love.
Amid all of this, I have found consolation through an experience over the weekend after our first week of work at our ministry sites. This particular weekend, several families of past Domincan and Apostolic Volunteers reaching as far back as the first House of Connections. On Friday, they welcomed us into their home Oak Park for some pizza and beer, and on Saturday we had a potluck at the convent in River Forest. Both nights were inter-generational gatherings where countless stories and laughs were shared as they spoke of past experiences as volunteers and we shared our thoughts of the upcoming year of service. That weekend, we again fell into the incredible hospitality of others and personally speaking, this helped make both Chicago and my own fears a bit smaller and more approachable.