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A Church on the Street

It is true that going out on to the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But if the church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded church that goes out on to the streets and a sick, withdrawn church, I would definitely choose the first one. —Pope Francis
This is one of the first quotes from Pope Francis that captured my heart and imagination. It envisions a church in the midst of the people—a church visible to those on the “outskirts.” It brought to mind Sr. Lauria, a member of my Dominican congregation, who ran a mobile kitchen from a van. She would bring meals to homeless men and women living under the Major Deegan Expressway in the South Bronx , just a stone’s throw from Yankee stadium. The only time anyone except Lauria took notice of these folks was when the police would clear them out the day of a Yankee game. Lauria not only brought the church to the outskirts but also formed church with the men and women who became sisters, brothers, and friends.
The ascendancy of a therapeutic culture has influenced our religious practice or lack of one. We find an array of books linking spirituality with personal healing and emotional support. But the spirituality of a committed disciple of Jesus Christ is more than a path to self-fulfillment. It is instead a journey of ongoing conversion to gospel values—loving God and loving neighbor especially the least among us. We are called to bring the compassionate presence of Christ to the streets both as individuals and as a catholic community. Authentic discipleship calls us from our comfortable pews to the mission fields of our cities, neighborhoods, and families. Jesus didn’t come to establish support groups but to form disciples willing and ready to go forth and proclaim God’s reign of mercy, charity, and justice. The street can be a dangerous place, but as the pope reminds us: better to be a wounded church among the poor than a sick one wrapped up in itself.
Sr. Terry is the Executive Director of RENEW International and a Dominican Sister from Blauvelt, NY.
Photo: Marko Georgiev for The New York Times

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