A retreat presenter last year challenged staff to sum up the Gospel in one word. Most of us said “love” or “service.” When we had gone around the room and 30 people had said their word, Fr. John Durbin pronounced a word none of us had said: Conversion.
At a recent celebration of the 11 graduates of the 2013-14 JustFaith program at St. Francis, conversion was a theme underlying the testimonies of participants. JustFaith is designed for people who are longing to do more to live their faith in the world but aren’t yet sure what changes to make in their lives to follow Jesus’ call to serve the poor.
Fr. David McBriar told graduates, alumni and prospective participants in the next JustFaith group that the program “empowers you to develop compassion and a compassionate commitment to our church, our community and our world, and prepares and energizes you for social ministry.”
St. Francis has been offering JustFaith for 11 years. The program runs from September through April, meeting for 24 sessions in a small group. Participants are invited to a lively and challenging process of spiritual transformation and in-depth learning of Catholic Social Teaching through books, videos, discussion, prayer, retreats and meetings with people experiencing poverty and injustice.
Lynn Lemay spoke of the incredible sense of community that formed among members of the JustFaith group. “They were some of the most amazing people I met in my entire life.” She summed up the impact of JustFaith in the word intentional. “I found this intentional drive, that no matter what I did, I talked and reflected about how I’d changed and where I wanted to give.” Lynn said that before JustFaith she led a privileged life and never really saw the poor. Now “I see it all in a really personal way. I see the pain, I see the homeless, I see the suffering, I see the disenfranchised,” she said. JustFaith “is one of the most profound beautiful things I’ve ever done. I recommend it to anybody who wants to learn more about themselves, learn about their faith, and have a closer relationship with Jesus, to walk with Jesus,” Lynn said.
Joan Monti is a grandmother who has been very active in the Catholic Church for a long time, yet had not participated much in social ministry with the poor until joining JustFaith. She was profoundly affected by an immersion trip to hear the stories of people who are homeless at Love Wins Ministries in downtown Raleigh. She still thinks about the man who had supported himself for years but recently lost his job and become homeless. “I could see in his face the sadness and the anguish that so much of what he was trying to do was hang onto his dignity and self-respect,” Joan said. “For me that kind of put a face on homelessness that there but for the grace of God go any one of us.”
Chuck Small, a former journalist who now works as a high school guidance counselor, said that to him “JustFaith is about unlearning speed, unlearning distance, and unlearning innocence.” He realized that he didn’t know a lot of what was going on in the world related to poverty and injustice, and that now that he knows, it’s an opportunity for action.
Jim Falanga, who runs his own IT consulting business and is active in the Knights of Columbus, said, “For me the journey is the struggle to have that communion, that sense of communion with all people.” Before JustFaith, Jim was active in doing service, but saw it more as a matter of doing for others through serving at food pantries and homeless shelters. “Now it’s more a matter of showing up, of being present with other people. It’s brought me a certain sense of joy,” Jim said.