Starting Over

IMG_2044By Elias Arias, FC 21

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned since the pandemic began is that it’s one thing to hand out food, but it’s another to cultivate relationships with regular clients and volunteers. Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt a loss in the sense of community often found in the lobby area during lunch or dinner times, as these are now replaced with to-go windows. With the new preventive measures in place to keep both ourselves and our clients safe, it feels like starting over again. 

Perhaps my favorite morning task at my service site, Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, was to welcome clients into our food pantry for intake at my office. Here, I had the opportunity to interact with them in a more intimate setting, where they felt comfortable to speak freely about their lives. These interactions put a pause on the fast paced mornings of the pantry and helped me build relationships with them. Now, no services are offered inside our facilities. Instead, we try to serve them as quickly and safely as possible, by having them call ahead of time to give us their information and set up a pick-up time. When everything is ready, one of our volunteers heads outside with a pre-packaged box of food for our clients. 

Our soup kitchen routine also looks different. Our clients would come into the lobby area to pick up a bag with sandwiches and other goods. Sometimes they would stay for a couple of minutes to chat with each other or with the volunteers working the window. The lobby area was a welcoming place especially on those rainy or snowy days in Syracuse. Now, our clients stand outside at least six feet apart from each other. They wait patiently as we call them one by one to serve them their sandwiches. 

Starting over is not at all bad. During this pandemic, I’ve seen service and community through new lenses. I admire my community members, site supervisor and fellow food pantry and soup kitchen volunteers, whose love and dedication for the marginalized of Syracuse is far greater than any fear of uncertainty. When all of our placement sites were deemed essential, we were given a choice: to continue serving while following the proper social distancing guidelines, or to remain home and support our community in a prayerful way. We all chose to serve. As we begin the countdown to the final two months of FrancisCorps, I am excited to see how we can grow closer as a community and with other fellow brothers and sisters in need. 

Quite Moments

IMG_2029-e1565280560604-297x300By Tanner Loper, FC 21

I often feel I am too quiet or passive in my service. Opportunities and experiences seem to constantly pass me by. I hear all this talk about how God is in the moment and how, if only I could be mindful of Him, He would bring a new life into my days and work. Perhaps this is right, and I continue to work on my mindfulness, but my experience in FrancisCorps has shown me that faith is not necessarily about mindfulness. It is about communing with the Lord even after the encounter, and, through that, allowing Him to transform me.

In the first week of January, I found myself standing under a gazebo in the gray chill of a Syracuse mid morning. Around me was an acre or two of soft, rolling hills, mottled with patches of yet unmelted snow. The snowy meadow was framed by a narrow, naked tree line. The news forecasted warm temperatures, but right then, I could not feel my nose. Scattered in the field were patches of brightly-colored flowers, which seemed to have dug their way up through the dirt and snow. I shared the gazebo with two people and one casket. The body of a man I never met was tucked into its second crib. We went through the short prayer service, and I helped carry the casket to its burial vault. It all happened so quickly that I hardly felt I was there, but now I find myself asking: “What was he like?” “What dreams did he have?” “What was the most beautiful thing he ever saw?” The thoughts I would have liked to have had there, under the gazebo, came to me days and weeks later. I prayed: “Lord, you certainly could have done something; why didn’t you?”

I never heard the answer, nor do I expect one in this lifetime. The mystery of suffering, I find, does not shake my faith. If it did, I would be a committed atheist by now. There are times in my work with the poorest of the poor when the sin and the pain seem too much to have ever been chosen. There are times when the pit of despair seems so deep I can hardly hear the echo of a divinely-created soul at the bottom. It can all look so dark, but I see in the eyes of some men a small light of hope, and that glimmer is enough to see the darkness of pain and sorrow illumined out of existence. God’s Love is too great in the smallest good for even the greatest evil carry meaning.

In the last week of January, I stood in the sanctuary of Assumption Church, the FrancisCorps parish. The lights were so bright, and I was perpetually certain I was standing in the wrong spot or moving my arms funny. I said, in a manner more rote than usual, the missal’s adaptation of the centurion’s words: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” At that time, I felt the blood leave the upper half of my body, and I became keenly aware of the warm patch of oil on my forehead.  The next thing I knew, I was back in the pew fearing that the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ were stuck between my teeth.

Unless you chew the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. 

I am known for ruminating; I am slow to pass sincere judgment or offer my thoughts on something. I have often seen this as a great fault of mine: I prefer to be alone and to “chew” on things. As I work at the men’s shelter or participate in the sacraments of Christ’s Church on earth, it all goes by too quickly. Nothing makes sense as its happening; I find myself present in the proper sense only after the moment has passed. The life Jesus refers to is in the chewing. Christ appears before me in the men I see every day. I am learning to serve them without needing it to make sense. In the quiet moments between, I chew, swallow, and allow Him to nourish me. I have learned to not fear having Christ between my teeth, so to speak, for He is the one I want people to see in my smile.

Lord’s Constant Presence

IMG_2045-e1565280382419-272x300By Caroline Friedmann, FC 21

For six months, I have worked in the employment office of the Refugee Resettlement Agency of Catholic Charities, affectionately called “CYO.” I wear many hats and gave myself the titles of DMV Coordinator, Cultural Orientation Provider, and Employment Specialist. I provide an orientation class to newly arrived refugees about life in the United States, assist them in getting their identifications, and help them find employment.

There is no ordinary day at CYO! Some weeks, I am running around Syracuse taking clients to the Department of Motor Vehicles, networking with potential employers, or going to job interviews with clients. Some weeks, I stay at my desk in the office to job search or provide Cultural Orientation to newly arrived refugees. Like all jobs, there are exciting days and dull days. Like all social service jobs, there are clients who make it very easy to love and to serve them and there are clients that really challenge you to grow.

I am not the first face a refugee sees when they arrive to the States. I am one of many they see in the months following their arrival. To them, the hardest part is over. They have made it here safely and many are reunited with friends and family. They can handle waiting in the DMV with me for their ID information to get processed, or sitting in a classroom as we discuss landlord and tenant laws.

Refugees are people full of hope for the future, for themselves and their children. Many of them carry a deep, profound spirituality. Before I moved to Syracuse, the Lord would gently remind me that “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). My clients at the Refugee Resettlement Agency embody the faith it takes to believe that. I am reminded of the Lord’s constant presence when I look into their eyes.

Heart for Service

IMG_2044By Elias Arias, FC 21

Over Christmas break, I had the opportunity to visit my family and friends back home in Costa Rica. The difference from the place I am currently calling home and the place I had called home all my life couldn’t have been more different! In just a few hours, I went from speaking English to Spanish, from wearing layers of clothing to just shorts and a t-shirt, and from seeing big buildings to big mountains.

While these were the easier changes to point out, my family and friends were curious about how I was growing spiritually and personally. It was difficult to explain how the first half of my FrancisCorps experience and life in Syracuse was transforming me but, one story is particular, helped me expressed it.

In my placement site at the Assumption Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen, I interact with clients from all walks of life. And one of the main reasons I love my job is that, despite the differences, we help feed all those who come through our doors. This is why an experience in November was stressful—we were running very low on sandwiches for the rest of the week. This meant that our clients, some who depend heavily on our sandwich program, would not be able to receive any during our afternoon and evening soup kitchen hours.

I was grateful to see how everyone at Assumption rallied to help me. The first task was to purchase all the ingredients with my community member Kate and Friar Rick. At the supermarket, I still remember the look of curiosity in some customers’ faces when they saw our cart full of ham, cheese, mustard and bread. When we arrived back at Assumption, we asked some staff members of the various ministries to also help. I am very thankful to Sister Dolly, A.J., Johanna, Friar Rick and my community members, who stopped what they were doing to assist me in making over 700 sandwiches.

While these last six months have been full of new adventures and experiences, like eating a bagel for the first time and picking up new vocabulary in English; nothing compares to how I am learning to embrace gratitude. Every day, I feel blessed to be surrounded by individuals with a heart for service, who remind me of the meaning of the Gospel call to action. With their example in mind, I hope to continue growing a heart for service and gratitude.

God’s Peace and Love

IMG_2039-e1565280237970-263x300By Lauren Chacon, FC 21

So much of life is lived in the unknown. Yet, these last few months at Francis House have uncovered a greater awareness and appreciation of the uncertainty we face in life. Walking through the doors of my placement site every morning, I do not know who I will serve or who will serve me. One thing I do know is that in the midst of uncertainty and grief, in the sad and difficult moments- there is always God’s peace and love. These two values are the foundation of Francis House, which in turn allow God’s presence to permeate through the residents, their families, the volunteers and staff.

When I shared the news with my parents about serving for a year at a home that provides care for individuals with terminal illnesses, I distinctly remember them asking me if I understood what hospice was. I knew that it provided palliative care, however, at the time; I had never experienced the loss of someone very close to me. For a while, I was scared that I would not be able to handle that type of environment but there was a tug in my heart that this is where I needed to be. It was in truly embracing God’s grace and trusting in Him that I embarked on this journey. The funny thing is that I still feel the
same uncertainty now that I am here but with my trust in God there is greater love and peace.

It is with this trust that I have been able to appreciate the greatest lesson I have learned throughout my time at Francis House: embrace the present. My dear friends at Francis House continue to show me that there is so much beauty in knowing that I can only live in the present. It is with this thought in mind that I embrace Mother Teresa’s words, “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” So with God’s boundless peace and love, I enter through the doors of Francis House everyday ready to embrace the gift of presence.

Healing the Mind and the Heart

IMG_2038-e1565281411176-290x300By Stephanie Vogelman, FC 21

“So, what does your day to day life look like”? Hmmm… well let’s see every morning I wake up to the sound of my alarm clock going off, which I snooze at least three times before I actually wake up. Once I convince myself to get up, I stumble down to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee for everyone and then return to my room to get ready for the day. Shortly after, I come down, eat breakfast and head out the door to catch the bus. Before heading into Emergency Services, I usually go to pray in the Cathedral across the street to center myself and collect my thoughts before the day starts.

The first hour of my day is usually the same, however once I step through the front doors of my office, I never know what my day looks like. I have various tasks during the day which typically include answering the phone at front desk, sorting out clothes and food donations and attending to clients who walk in looking for information about the programs we offer. A large portion of my position is helping with the Housing and Relocation Program which assist individuals in securing a safe and stable housing option. This includes paying for clients back rent if they are about to be evicted or help them relocate to a new residence. I perform screenings for these clients and go out to inspect their potential residence to make sure they are moving into a safe environment.

Having so many tasks can be both exciting and exhausting. I sometimes refer to my position as performing triage because most of these services we provide are just temporary patches to larger issues. There are also instances where clients are not eligible for our services which can also be exhausting. I struggle with this because I know that bad news is the last thing these clients want to hear. It weighs heavy on my heart because I know they are in a desperate situation and there is very little I can do to alleviate their pain. However, a conversation I just recently had started to change my outlook on the working I am doing. My FrancisCorps Director and I were having a conversation over coffee and he brought up how Jesus became exhausted just as we do. He mentioned that Jesus had the ability heal everyone because He was fully God but physically could not because He was fully human as well and that limited Him in some ways. However, Jesus did as much as He could until He could not, and then would take time for Himself to rest. He needed to heal as much as everyone else did.

Over time, it has been made clear that being “Christlike” is doing just this; doing as much as you can, while giving your heart and mind time to heal in order to serve others. I realize that I cannot help everyone that comes through the doors of Emergency Cathedral Services, but I can do my best and trust God to lead me down path planned out for me, and that is all I can ask for.

Peace in Poverty

IMG_2033-e1565280674579-278x300By Kate Timmermann, FC 21

In college I used to worry about losing the people I loved. My family—the most important people in my life—seemed so far away, living their own lives back at home, and I would look around and think, “What am I doing here?” I would wonder why I was wasting time on homework and meetings and things that I didn’t care about as much as my sister Rose, who I only have a finite amount of time with on this earth, and who, like everyone in my life, could be called home to the Lord any day.

At the beginning of FrancisCorps, my worries about the finite nature of my human relationships seemed even more pressing. Not only am I 14 hours away from my family in Illinois, but now I also have a FrancisCorps family, who I will live with until July. Once this year ends, these beautiful people who I have come to love so deeply will scatter across the northern hemisphere. I will see them occasionally and we will keep in touch as we live our lives, but our time as a community will be ended.

The Lord and St. Francis gave me an answer to my worries this year, when I was recruiting at my alma mater in Indianapolis with Johanna, the Associate Director of FrancisCorps. I was talking to Johanna about how strange it felt to see people who I was friends with in college and tell them about FrancisCorps, and know that I might never see them again. Recruiting that day was very bittersweet, and when I told Johanna that, she said, “Isn’t it beautiful that Franciscan poverty, where everything in life is a gift from God, allows us to be grateful for these relationships, as the gift they are, instead of being sad that they are over?”

Johanna was talking about my college friends, but the implications of seeing relationships as a gift from God are still sinking in and permeating the rest of my life. I always thought of poverty as just not having money or material things, until the Franciscan charism of gratitude helped me see that a spirituality of poverty is much deeper; my brothers, Rose, my parents, and my FrancisCorps community are not mine at all, but the Lord’s, and remembering that frees me to thank God for these relationships, these abundant gifts that fill my cup to overflowing and teach me how to love the One who is not finite.

Now, as I consider (and attempt to live out) Franciscan poverty, I don’t worry as much about losing the people I love. I am beginning to realize that true poverty is the most peaceful way to live—I find joy in my relationships instead of fear as I thank the Lord for giving me these wonderful people each day. And I begin to understand why St. Francis was so fond of saying, “Pace e bene!

God Is Here Too

IMG_2029-e1565280560604-297x300By Tanner Loper, FC 21

I’ve been working at the Catholic Charities Men’s Shelter (CCMS) for a few months now. For many, this is a place of last resort. Even after a client is kicked out of another shelter, we’ll take them in. Even if a client has ongoing difficulties with drugs, alcohol, or mental health, we’ll make them a bed. The “bedroom” is a large open space, reminiscent of a boot camp barracks, with numbered beds and footlockers. We call it the dorm. There are some offices in a room at the back of the building. That is where the caseworkers are. They hammer away at their keyboards and talk loudly into their phones and scratch appointment notes onto scrap paper. They are required to meet with each of their clients at least once a week to get them registered for public assistance, employed, and housed as soon as reasonably possible. Most days, I float from empty desk to empty desk (depending on who’s not around) to run tuberculosis test reports, tend to a small caseload, and enter intake forms from new clients into the homelessness management database. In the time between, I interact with clients at the front desk and by the kitchen.

Not long ago, I was asked to collect a client’s belongings into bags. He was being kicked out. I was told this was because he had failed to meet with his caseworker for three weeks straight. I obediently went to his bed and began packing. Every time I touched an item, I felt like I was trespassing on his very person. A man who hardly had himself only had three trash bags of items, and even those were subject to my consolidation. Among the items to pass through my hands were two pieces of cardboard. One was large enough to sleep on (I prayed he wouldn’t  need it) and the other was small enough to be held on a street corner. He came ready to leave. On his sign was written:


help with

some $$


Is all poetry intended?

I haven’t been able to make much of this experience yet.

When Christ says that he is the poor, and that the poor are him (Mat. 25:31-46), and when we are asked to imitate him (1 Cor. 11:1), what are we supposed to do? Are we meant to perform some great feat of service for our fellow man to serve our Lord? It seems like it. Should we scour the streets for the cold and hungry to welcome them into our homes every night? Maybe. Should we renounce all our belongings and become like the poor in order to be like Christ? Probably. Those would indeed be great feats of sanctity, but I’m coming to realize there’s more to it than that. I am reminded of something Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “The smallest thing that can love is one of the greatest things,” and I think it’s true. I might not be living as simply as I could, and I might miss some opportunities to serve, but I pray all the time that the love of Christ might multiply my tiny deeds. Maybe one day I’ll be offered the grace of complete surrender. For now, though, I will hand over the sandwich and call the landlord just as I should. I will look at the men in the eyes and say something along the lines of “Let’s get you your own place,” or, simply, “Good morning.”

One Friday, the community was gathered for its nightly prayer. We had just finished reading St. John the Evangelist’s words: “He who loves is born of God and knows God” when we took a period of silence. There then came from the house next door a mighty and joyful song. What seemed to be a dozen people sang in their loudest voices in an unfamiliar language. Our neighbors, seldom seen, were then heard loud and clear. We just listened. As I allowed myself to be inundated by that song, I could have sworn I heard a choir of angels picking up harmonies. Notes of liquid love were weaved into every sound wave. There came in seraphic song the message “God is here too.”

It is difficult to say exactly what I look forward to in the next year. It looks a little like losing myself and a little like finding myself. I hope to learn to relate to my work and my community in a way that brings me into a closer relationship with Christ. I hope to let the men I see every day loosen my vanities and my pride. I look forward to the narrowing of the gap between myself and my Lord. Most of all, though, I hope to encounter His Love one moment of eye contact, one sandwich, one prayer, one song at a time.

2 MAC 15:38.

Ministry of Listening

IMG_2033-e1565280674579-278x300By Kate Timmermann, FC 21

Northside Syracuse, where the FrancisCorps house is and where our parish, Assumption Church, has its outreach ministries, is a diverse neighborhood made up of many small communities, each with its own culture and language. The population that Assumption ministries serve is among the most vulnerable and least remembered in the Northside: the families who struggle with mental illness, addition and generational poverty. At Friar Rick’s suggestion, I started what we have been calling a “listening ministry” in the Food Pantry at Assumption. I sit on the benches where clients come in for sandwiches or groceries, listen to the conversations around me and form relationships with pantry regulars.

I feel awkward there. It must be painfully apparent that I am not a pantry client and that I am in a world of which I have no experience. Sometimes pantry volunteers are confused why I am not working! Internally, I am shaken by the upheaval in these people’s lives because of their vulnerability, and I am angry that they are so often overlooked. I leave the pantry drained and exhausted, wondering if I have accomplished anything.

I have also been physically drained these past few weeks by a lingering ear infection, which both takes a toll on my energy levels and makes it harder to hear. That is right; the girl listening to people in the pantry is doing it with only one ear! I cannot help but be reminded of the blind man who cries for Jesus to have mercy on him so that he might see. I have been deaf to the plights of my brothers and sisters who come to the food pantry and I am still learning to ask for mercy of the Lord, that I might truly hear them.

The listening ministry is not only to hear the needs of those we serve, but it is also to affirm them as children of God. I am still deaf- or at least half deaf- and cannot hear their hearts, but I can try to reflect the love of Christ for the people who come to the pantry, who are now my friends, my brothers and my sisters. I am almost assuredly hopelessly naïve in many ways, but perhaps my youth and inexperience, which at first seems only inconvenient and exhausting to overcome, can allow me to create this position in the strange gray area between office and food pantry, between professionals in non-profits and the homeless who need their services, between Assumption Church as an institution and the Northside as a transient, argumentative, colorful community of folks just surviving.

A Reflection of God’s Love

IMG_2039-e1565280237970-263x300By Lauren Chacon, FC 21

FrancisCorps is like a seed that God tenderly planted in my heart. During my junior year
of college, Friar Rick, the chaplain of FrancisCorps, visited my campus ministry at the University of Texas at El Paso. I attended a presentation he gave on FrancisCorps and fell in love with the program. Despite my attraction to FrancisCorps, I had no intention of applying to the program. At that time, I had a career path set and I was determined to stick to it; however, the seed that God planted in my heart grew and blossomed into a complete desire to serve God through FrancisCorps. He called me to FrancisCorps; everything I longed for in a service program was embodied through the FrancisCorps volunteer program.

With God at the heart of FrancisCorps, His love is lived out through the Franciscan
values of community, service, and brotherhood. I am so very blessed to be a part of this
program and of this beautiful community. In just a few months my community has become a family, sharing life and love with one another. There is a fire in my heart to be a reflection of God’s love to His people through service in FrancisCorps.