Community Bound By Love

It has been almost a month since I first had my nervous excitement about traveling to LA, and looking back on the experience, I can’t possibly sum everything up into one blog post. This immersion trip has taught me the power of community, faith and friendship, and I am so blessed to have gone through this journey with a group from all across the U.S. that shares in the Marianist charisms. The relationships I formed with the other students are irreplaceable, and I am thankful to say that they are not only my new friends, but my new family.
A big part of the trip was our encounters with the people of LA, whether it be running into José outside of the church, hearing Paco’s story at Homeboy Industries, talking to the students at Lady of Talpa Catholic School or listening to Catherine and Jeff talk about their journey with the Catholic Worker. Two people especially had an impact on me, the first being a young man named Giod at Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row. He lived at the shelter and often helped out in the kitchen when serving meals, and he was open about rough patches that he’s been through. He showed me scars on his body from gunshots and stab wounds, and I couldn’t believe that he had been through so much and he was only 2 years older than me. Despite his hardships, he continued to have the biggest smile on his face and radiated positivity and compassion toward everyone that lived in the shelter. He touched the hearts of everyone who spoke to him that day, and his impact on me is one that I will remember forever.
The next encounter was with Christopher at the Catholic Worker, also on Skid Row. I remember music playing all of a sudden in the kitchen, and when I went to look for the source I was surprised to see a man who had gone through the line earlier playing piano. His talent was incredible and I pulled up a chair next to him just listening, completely mesmerized by the way his fingers moved across the keys. We bonded over famous pieces and composers and discussed how we each got involved in playing the piano. Through human interactions like these, I have realized just how important taking the time to be truly present with someone really is. So often we have our faces buried in our phones, or talk to people with thoughts in the back of our mind of what we’re going to say next or how to get out of the conversation instead of really listening. It was incredible to feel the Holy Spirit surround me when sincerely taking the time to form meaningful relationships. God speaks to us through every person we cross paths with, no matter how different from you they may seem. It’s simply just a matter of whether or not we are willing to open our hearts and listen.
The biggest aspect going into the trip for me and what has still resonated with me a month later was my desire to deepen my faith. On the first night of the trip, we were asked to choose a word that would guide us throughout the week. I have never really been in touch with my Catholic upbringing, nor do I want a live a life without my faith being a part of it. One of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip was to begin that faith journey, so I chose the word “Growth.” I would be lying if I said there weren’t times where I felt out of place, or I didn’t belong there. I wondered why I was chosen to go on this trip and often felt like an outsider being in a group that was so much more devoted to their faith. I wanted to be at that point, but I never knew how. Diving head first into this experience, I have never been surrounded by so many beautiful people who are so unbelievably driven by their focus on God, and that has only pushed me to want to seek that in my own life. It was amazing to see my connection to my faith develop in such a short period of time through prayer and community, and I can’t thank everyone enough for providing me with such a loving, supportive environment to do just that. Combined with my encounters with the people of LA, I have learned how to open my heart to God’s grace and I hope to see that the fire and passion for a faith-filled life continues.

It’s been difficult to come back to a world that is so materialistic and excessive, but I am so happy that I started off the new year with an experience that taught me to relish in the simple joys in life such as days with beautiful weather, laughing with friends late at night and smiles that I share with people walking across campus. As I continue into the school year, I want to put more time into forming meaningful relationships with my family and friends, and make an effort to be consciously present with the people I encounter. I often find myself complaining about little things, so I hope to develop a new mindset where I turn negatives into positives, such as being thankful for the ability to walk instead of complaining about how far away my classes are. I also intend to lead a life of simplicity, buying only what I need and attempting to stop living a life full of excess. Instead, I hope to keep God’s plan and love for me as my main focus, and continue to grow as a child of Christ. As the people of Skid Row showed me, true happiness isn’t found through material goods or superficial relationships, but through a devoted community. Through volunteering, sharing laughs and discovering the nooks and crannies of the City of Angels, I have learned that what binds us in community is pure love, no matter what background you come from.

Kristine Perez
University of Dayton

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