The City of the Queen of the Angels

As I look back at my trip to Los Angeles, I feel so incredibly blessed.  The people, the experiences, the laughter, the struggles, the community, the poverty.  We truly experienced it all.  I remember reading the blog post from last year and wondering what it was about the trip that made it so hard to answer the question “So how was LA?”, but now I understand it myself.  When people ask about this trip or wonder why I was in LA, it is so difficult to explain.  It wasn’t just service, but it wasn’t just community and Marianist connection, and it wasn’t just experiencing Los Angeles.  Somehow, it was all of that and more, balanced so perfectly.  The experiences that I gained are memories that will stay with me for many years to come.
One aspect of the trip that I loved was being able to meet with the Marianist brothers in the area.  I didn’t know that we would be doing this at all so maybe that is why it sticks out to me.  The sense of love and the welcoming feeling of their communities was so endearing.  Also, our ability to have such striking conversations with the brothers after our beach day really stuck with me.  They wanted so much to give us advice and to help us dive deeper, which I loved and appreciated.  One thing that I do not think I have been good about since coming to UD has been really getting involved with our Marianist communities.  My freshman year, I felt like I was involved with my faith on campus because I was active in ministry at Stuart Residence Hall, but there are so many other avenues to grow as a person on campus.  Obviously I am not on campus this semester but when I come back next year, I really hope to reach out more to the Marianist brothers at UD and to get more involved in campus ministry.  It is something that is important to me and I know that the Marianist brothers at UD are great living examples of a faith filled life.
Another huge piece of the trip for me was helping out at the Catholic Worker.  I could go on and on about this experience because I think I gained so many lessons and insights from the people I encountered and the things I saw.  I will always remember the overwhelming sense of love I felt when I walked in to the kitchen.  It was like something so new and whole and remarkable.  The people there give up so much of their time each week for the sake of feeding their brothers and sisters in Christ.  What a beautiful gift that they choose to give.  In each small task that needs to be done, it is contributing to the whole of the meal.  As I recall this process, it makes me think of how perfectly it relates to us all in the Body of Christ.  We all have many talents and many ways that we are called by God to live out his love.  Even when it seems insignificant and not impactful, together the pieces work toward lifting up the Body of Christ.  For alone we cannot do much (think of one Catholic Worker trying to prepare that meal), but together we can do amazing things in the name of Jesus Christ.  I was also struck at the Catholic Worker by being reminded that this isn’t just a one day event for the people coming through the food line, but rather, it is their everyday life.  As people came through the line numerous times so they would have food for the next day, it hit me that I may only be working here for one morning, but these people are starving every day and need help every day.  It isn’t something that is a one-time fix.  It is poverty and homelessness and it is these people’s lives. 
As I am working at my co-op, I am making a good amount of money.  I hear people at work discussing budgets for products and they so easily speak about millions of dollars.  How is it that we have lost the value of a dollar?  We speak about millions like it is nothing but then have a hard time accepting the fact that poor people need a couple of dollars to get by.  When did we harden our hearts? Yet how are we able to help?  These are the questions that I constantly battle now that I have witnessed poverty in Los Angeles.  What am I actually able to do for the poor and needy?
Thinking back to the LA trip, I am reminded of the excessive amount of things I have.  Some stuff I will probably hardly ever use, yet it is still a thing that I have and that I need.  Why? I couldn’t tell you.  Then I think back to the people on Skid Row with all their belongings in a shopping cart or a plastic bag.  Nothing to their name.  But they are still people.  Still beautifully and wonderfully made in the eyes of Christ.  I remember how blessed I am, how I need to see the spirit of Christ within each individual, and how the materialistic things of this world are not what I should ever hold on to.
The visit to Homeboy Industries was also something that really impacted me and it changed how I think about gang violence.  I think I used to look at gang members as bad people that chose to get into this dangerous lifestyle, but after talking to Raymond, I can’t help but picture the young boys of the neighborhood witnessing endless violence and feeling unstoppable pain.  They search for safety and security, and have no idea where else to find it but in a gang like the ones their family members chose.  It is not about the person as much as it is the situation.  Imagine if I was born in an area like Boyle Heights.  Would I be the same Mary Beth?  I don’t know.  Where you grow up and what you experience plays a huge impact.  This experience gave me the sympathy to recognize the struggle that these men and women face each day.  I also admire their desire to change and to leave behind this lifestyle, however I worry about the consequences that come with it.  Raymond said he had not told his gang yet that he was trying to turn his life around for fear of their violent reaction.  It baffles me how a gang can feel like a place of safety yet it is also the cause of so much violence.  I hope and pray that the people in this situation are able to get help and get out safely.
Going off the idea of the value of where you were born, I am reminded of the beautiful children we encountered at the Good Shepard Shelter.  They had to witness domestic violence, but the sisters and teachers do such a good job of working with their mothers to make sure that this will not be a life long issue for them.  I loved seeing how the shelter values allowing the kids to be children and have fun and be carefree.  They capture an environment of love where they are able to show the kids how violence is never the answer.  You could really sense the value of community in the shelter because all the women support each other and want the best for their children.  I was truly touched by this experience.
On a different note, I absolutely loved having the other Marianist Universities with us during this trip.  It was shocking how similar our campus environments sound because of the Marianist charisms that we share.  Talking to the other students just reminded me how happy I am that I chose to come to a Catholic, Marianist school because there is such beauty, love, and value in that identity.  I witnessed so many graces through the people on this trip and I hope to learn from each of them and grow as a person to be more of who God intends for me to be.
After experiencing Los Angeles on so many different levels, I feel like I have been blessed with this experience and look forward to letting others live and learn through my journey.  A couple of weeks after our trip, my mom was teaching a confirmation prep class and had 15 girls in our family room.  I happened to be home that weekend and ended up being able to share a bit with them about Skid Row as they prepare to go to the Catholic Worker near our house as a service activity.  As I shared with them, I realized the value in telling what I encountered because it could lead others toward truth and justice and compassion, all of which are Christ.  I now realize the ignorance so many people have of the situation going on in our country.  Before the trip, I did not know what Skid Row was and I did not understand what homeless people go through each and every day.  To some extent, I still don’t know or understand it all completely, but I think there is value in becoming aware of and encountering the situation.  We can’t pretend it doesn’t exist.  These are people’s lives we are talking about.  This needs to be a discussion that we are always reminded of because many in our world struggle and we should never settle to be okay with that.

The trip to Los Angeles changed my perspective on life in so many different areas.  I did not save the homeless or stop gang and domestic violence or cure those struggling with addictions but I encountered.  I encountered Christ in these people, these situations, these places, these experiences and that is why this trip is so important.  It has left a mark on my heart and shown me humanity at its worst and best.  I am not able to save the world or eliminate evil but I believe that there is true power in being present and in encountering new situations.  I hope to stay connected with the LA Marianist brothers, the other Marianist schools, and to always remember the people of Skid Row and other organizations that we worked with.  I hope to find a way to live my life in a way that reflects what I have learned from LA and that reminds myself and others of the constant improvement that needs to happen in our world for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am so grateful for this experience and pray that God will help me to do with it what he desires of me.
-Mary Beth Turner


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