Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 28, 2010
Miss Justice gives the poor a voice, choice
Winner of the Sr. Anne Honig Award, Brittney White takes social justice words and puts them into action in Edmonton, Guatemala
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT - At Newman Theological College, she has been dubbed "Miss Justice."
Brittney White, 24, volunteered with the Edmonton Street News, a monthly street newspaper. She met individuals from the inner city and then wrote news articles about them. Three years in street journalism piqued her interest in social justice.
"There I just went out onto the streets and started asking people their stories. I'd sit down with them for coffee and recognize the dignity in the people that I used to just pass by.
"Hearing their stories was my first introduction to social justice that I encountered on the streets," said White, vice president of social justice and spiritual life on Newman Theological College's student council.
Motivated by their stories, the young woman went into soup kitchens, shelters and various social agencies. Not only did she learn the names of these homeless people, they knew her name too.
INNER CITY SOULS
She felt a part of that inner city community and that was a beautiful feeling because she had never met such genuine people before, people with nothing to hide. She met people who endured great struggles and had no option but to rely on social services.
"The stories I heard got me interested in why people are suffering. It got me asking myself deeper questions, and I asked Bob (McKeon) a whole lot of other questions. Why are these things happening? Why does poverty exist? Why is there low-income housing? Why are there so many kids on the street? Why are people asking for money for food when I see an abundance of resources to eat?"
White was introduced to social justice through McKeon, associate director of social justice for the Edmonton Archdiocese. They met in January 2006 when he was teaching an undergraduate course on volunteer service at St. Joseph's College at the U of A.
"Being committed to social justice work is a lifelong process. It's a lifestyle, not just a job," said White.
Aside from a six-month leave of absence to work in a group home with behaviourally challenged boys, White has been involved with St. Albert Parish for seven years. This is her first year as pastoral associate. She is in charge of the sacramental preparation, does one-on-one sessions with young people and coordinates youth ministry.
Reflecting on the lives of her influences and mentors, including Mother Teresa and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, challenged her to work on being holy.
"Working in an Oblate parish, we follow the charism of Eugene de Mazenod, and the beauty of his whole mission really got me involved in missions myself," she said.
She coordinates an Oblate Guatemala mission trip every second year, bringing young people to work in a HIV orphanage or hospital in the impoverished country. This summer will mark her fifth mission to Guatemala.
In partnership with the St. Albert Catholic School Board, the Backpack Project is something new in conjunction with the Guatemala mission. The goal is to give 5,000 backpacks full of school supplies to students in the K'iche region of Guatemala.
GOOD IN EVERYONE
Her fearless personality and her belief that there's good in everyone allow her to take on challenges that others would steer clear of.
"There are risks in doing mission work, but at the same time the good always outweighs the bad. God's love is undeniable. You can't deny God's love when it's there. When I know through prayer that I have a calling, I have to respond. I know that I have calling for this work," she said.
In schools and church, many young people tell her religion is forced on them using guilt tactics. Church is shoved in their face. They feel preached at.
White takes a gentler approach, motivating young people to make their own decisions as well as providing them with creative opportunities. She wants them to discern for themselves why God is important in their lives.
"So often it's through acts of charity. I introduce them to social justice initiatives. I find youth really love to help out and serve, and see that they're making a difference. If I can provide fun activities for them to come and help other people and throw some formation in there, that's the way to do it," said White.
social justice in action
Among the charitable works she has arranged for youth are serving meals, sorting clothes, movie nights at the Bissell Centre, inner city pastoral ministry, touring Sacred Heart Church, donating items to women's shelters, and giving out hot chocolate and cookies at random street corners.
"Often the youth feel that the distractions and problems in the world outweigh them, and so I have to give them that first baby step to show them that they really can make a difference. Honestly, making them the formators of their journeys, that's the most important thing," said White.
"I'm not lecturing them - I'm just facilitating our discussion. I am alongside them in the journey, not telling them what to do."
McKeon taught her two courses at Newman College and their paths cross frequently through their ongoing social justice work in the community. He described her as a student with "lots of energy, lots of passion, with a strong commitment for justice. She has a strong sense of her Catholic faith too."
SR. ANNE HONIG AWARD
For her extraordinary student leadership at the college and advocacy for social justice causes, she was awarded the Sister Anne Honig Award, a bursary that will allow her to continue her studies in social justice as well as deepen her faith through her theological studies.
"She was definitely one who everyone thought was a worthy award winner, not only for her work with social justice but also because she has the ability to excite people and create community among the students here," said Doreen Bloos, dean of students at Newman.
White introduced fair trade coffee to the college and helped raise money for a seminarian whose family was affected by the floods in the Philippines. She coordinates community potluck suppers, arranged a prayer chain for the people of Haiti, volunteered at the Mustard Seed and collected hygiene products for young people at a Youth Emergency Shelter where she works part-time.
"Even in the classroom she takes on very seriously, in her spirituality and theology, the preferential option for the poor. She is always putting forward the perspective of marginalized people," said Bloos."
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