Blog  

Aug 9

'God Is Living in Our Cities'

At West 30th Street, one block from Penn Station; and at West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan, two blocks from Times Square, we wake up and go to sleep to the sound of sirens, under the glare of a thousand million lights advertising stuff for the good life. As soon as we step into the streets and start our day, we see beggars whose bodies are broken by hunger and bad health. 

It’s unsettling, seeing, hearing, and touching this mixture of carnival and carnage. This city, New York City, is great and powerful in the world. It is a place of possibilities. But it also pushes fantasies and false hopes, and its poverty crushes and kills people.

“Living in the big city is not always easy,” said Pope Francis in his homily at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 25, 2015. Our Capuchin ancestors believed it was not always right to live in the big cities, and so they fled the convents for the periphery, to make hermitages, to exist on the margin of the cities. They were far enough away to preserve a life of prayer, but not so far away as to miss the cry of the poor, whose needs they served heroically.

Today, at least in New York City, it is unnecessary for Capuchins to flee the center to find the margins. For in a megacity such as this, where untold wealth collides with unspeakable misery, the margin is everywhere.

And here, Pope Francis reminded us, is where Jesus makes his home and takes his stand with God for us. “Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets, that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city.”

This hope is what we friars celebrated with over 400 of our sisters and brothers at the Church of Saint John the Baptist as we viewed a simulcast of the papal Mass. We prayed with Pope Francis, in the spirit of Saint Francis, for a more certain hope, for a “hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”

For us, the pope’s words were a resounding affirmation of the mission of our parish of Holy Cross-Saint John the Baptist, which is “to be Christ in the City.” We aim to be a spiritual center “where individuals can seek peace, holiness, and sanctuary” and a God-centered community where “we can find strength, joy, and happiness.” 

“God is living in our cities,” the pope said. We wondered to ourselves if the pope saw our iconic figure of Christ in the City on the facade of our now-former West 31st Street convent before he entered Madison Square Garden. It was like he was preaching to us.

“God is living in our cities.” We friars who engage in urban ministry give thanks for Pope Francis. His encouragement invigorates our mission to serve God made visible in the poor and humble Christ, whose image shines through our neighbors. This image burns most brightly in those neighbors most neglected. So long as someone suffers in silence on our streets, our work in this city is not done, and we cannot abandon this place. 

We must continue, in the words of our Holy Father, to “go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side.” Jesus Christ “frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness and selfishness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace. That peace which is born of accepting others, that peace which fills our hearts whenever we look upon those in need as our brothers and sisters.”