By Dan Pezzola, FC 19 Syracuse
As the story goes, minutes before Pope Francis became pope, a Cardinal from Brazil whispered to him, “Don’t forget the poor.” As you know Pope Francis has not forgotten them, he has embraced them and so I try to do the same. In undergrad at The Catholic University of America, I was in charge of leading students on homeless foodruns. I led around 20 students every Friday to a park right around the corner from the White House to have a conversation and share a meal with the homeless, but we always called them our friends on the street. The students got to know our friends and embraced them, just like Pope Francis. It was amazing to see the looks of joy and happiness on the students and our friends on the street.
Now as I serve with FrancisCorps, Assumption Food Pantry has that same feeling. Not a day goes by where I do not feel at home or welcome. My main job is to check people into the food pantry. By doing this I have to make sure they only come once a month and live in the area that the pantry serves. The pantry serves around 500 families a month and over 50 volunteers help make the pantry function. The friends I have made at the pantry have some amazing stories and come from all over the world. Some families are from the Congo, some from Ghana, some from Vietnam, some from right here in Central New York, but all are our brothers and sisters in God.
The people who use the pantry are amazing and I could not ask for better people to spend my time with. On my first day, they were all so welcoming and wanted me to succeed in my time there. Some now come just to say hi and ask how I am enjoying my time. I help out at the soup kitchen when I am not busy at the pantry and I get to see a lot more people there. They have all gotten to know me and now we all joke around and have some inside jokes. This morning when I was walking in, a couple of the friends I have made said, “Here comes trouble!” I naturally laughed and joked back saying, “I’ll go home!” we all laughed for a couple of minutes and it was a nice way to start my day. The memories I have from this food pantry are some I will never forget and I am excited to see where the year will take me. I have a feeling that when it does come to a close, the joy and love I have experience will make me wish I could stay here longer.
By Matthew Grothaus, FC 19 CR
So one of the things I find most amazing about FrancisCorps as an entity is its focus on relationships. The group, from the individual volunteers to the director, all seem aware that quite often it is the relationships one forms that can be the greatest source of personal growth and discovery. Don’t get me wrong, the work here in Costa Rica is definitely a challenge and the process of moving to a new country and living in community with other volunteers is certainly a source of growth. However, even within these settings, I can’t help but feel that what I will carry with me at the end of this year are memories of the people or that even if I won’t remember from whom, I will remember that most of the changes to my worldview have been brought about by some interaction with another person. I think I’ve taken this particularly to heart because in my work site Manos Abierta, a hospital for children with disabilities, a vast majority of the patients are nonverbal, adding another layer to the process of forming relationships.
As of now, I have just over a month’s experience working with them and for the first time, today a new volunteer came in to begin his work at the hospital. It wasn’t until after showing him around and interacting with all of the kids like I normally do during work that he pointed out to me how much different patients will light up or react to these small interactions. I realized how much I feed off of those small moments where someone “lights up” and use that energy to rejuvenate myself during the work day. In a way both innately understood by people and also supported scientifically, humans are just so clearly meant to be social. Even in the basic tenets of christian faith it is explained that wherever two or three are gathered in My name, I am there among them. We are meant to be together and form relationships. I think one of the basic realizations that brings many people to the point of dedicating part of their lives to service is recognizing that “the other” they are going to serve is someone created and loved equally by God. Someone that once you interact with, you quite often realize is no different than yourself.
I’ve loved continuing that realization here. My new friend that has begun volunteering just happens to live with some others and has had a tough time. They rarely spend time together even when all in the house but here, with FrancisCorps, the relationships you can form are held so highly. Our entire community of volunteers gathers at least once a day to share a meal and later to share prayer. At work, I’m explicitly encouraged to form connections and the friars we interact with have quickly become friends. Simply having the outlook of going out and being amongst what you don’t always understand until you see God in it, has helped me have a great many impactful opportunities in only this first month and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.