Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

December 1, 2014

Earlier this month, faith leaders from 25 churches and faith communities, including Archbishop Richard Smith, joined together at City Hall to renew their commitment to support the goal of Edmonton's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness in our city.

They reaffirmed the words of the Interfaith Statement they originally signed in 2011. Significantly, this statement ends with a list of values shared by the different faith communities: "respect for human dignity, solidarity with those who are poor and vulnerable, and an affirmation of the importance of inclusive and welcoming communities where individuals and families can thrive."

This is an important message for us today. Solidarity is a strong word. Pope Francis, in a recent statement, insists that solidarity "means much more than some acts of sporadic generosity."

MUTUAL RELATIONSHIP

Solidarity with those who are poor implies a mutual relationship, an interdependence, a common stake in the future, a sense that we are all in it together.

The emphasis on "inclusive and welcoming communities where individuals and families can thrive" speaks to us in our own neighbourhoods, our community associations and our Church communities and our willingness to welcome everyone, including those who have experienced homelessness and poverty, into our own lives.

The recent work of Edmonton Mayor's Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty is moving in a similar direction. Members of the task force spent the summer coming up with a working definition of poverty. Their result is really interesting: "Edmontonians experience poverty when they lack or are denied economic, social and cultural resources to have a quality of life that sustains and facilitates full and meaningful participation in the community."

This definition certainly calls for providing urgently needed financial resources, but it goes much further. It speaks of a "quality of life" rather than a quantity of life. The central point is "full and meaningful participation in the community." This means so much more than being a passive recipient of charity.

In late August, I stopped by a street celebration organized by the members of St. Alphonsus Parish on 118th Avenue. Several years ago, members of the parish made a real point of personally welcoming the residents of a new Housing First project when it opened a few blocks from the church. This has led to an ongoing relationship between the residents of the housing project and parish members.

SUNDAY BARBECUE

Part of this relationship is an annual Sunday afternoon community barbecue picnic put on by the parish for the housing residents and other members of the community. It was a beautiful day with lots of people and abundant food.

Towards the end of the event, some of the housing residents approached one of the parishioners saying how much they appreciated receiving the generosity and hospitality, but that next year they wanted to actively participate with the crew putting on the event. They wanted "full and meaningful participation."

Another example is the Welcome Home program run by Catholic Social Services. Through Welcome Home, volunteers from faith communities and community organizations commit to spend time journeying with and befriending participants in the program who are making the transition from being homeless to moving into and maintaining a home of their own, often in a new neighbourhood.

Recently, Homeward Trust issued a city-wide appeal for hundreds of volunteers to assist in the bi-annual street homeless count. Several of those who had previously been homeless, who were being assisted by the volunteers from Welcome Home, stepped forward and volunteered to be part of the team reaching out to those on the streets through the 2014 Homeless Count.

ENDING HOMELESSNESS

They wanted to be "full and meaningful" participants in the community initiatives working to end homelessness and eliminate poverty.

For authentic solidarity to be realized, our hearts, doors, neighbourhoods and churches need to be opened up to the challenging possibility of new relationships. Those who have been pushed to the margins of our city need to be invited into the very centre.

You will be reading these words close to Christ the King Sunday, when the Gospel is the account of the Last Judgment and the story of the sheep and the goats. The message is clear that as we build relationships and welcome those who have experienced homelessness and poverty into our lives, we welcome Christ to enter our lives in new and dynamic ways.

(Bob McKeon: sjustice@caedm.ca)