As a new year begins, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on my new life as a college student. I’ve met wonderful people, read beautiful works of literature, and learned invaluable lessons in the classroom. But on a cold December day in downtown Worcester, I learned a lesson more meaningful than any I’ve experienced on the Hill, and I’d like to share that story here on the Holy Cross website.
I had just arrived back on campus after my weekly volunteering at a Worcester public housing development. It was cold and dark outside. As I walked down Easy Street towards my dorm, attempting to shield my face from the freezing rain, a troubling thought hit me. “I left my backpack there,” I suddenly realized. “Today couldn’t get any worse.” After a few days of calls and searches, the inevitable became clear: my backpack was nowhere to be found. While we tried not to jump to any conclusions, we all assumed, being in such an impoverished neighborhood, that the backpack was probably stolen. Thankfully nothing of value was inside, and the $89 book bag was easily replaced with a few clicks on the North Face website.
Nevertheless, when I returned the next week to once again tutor the neighborhood’s children, I was a bit annoyed that such a crucial belonging of mine was lost with no explanation. In admittedly a bit of a bad mood, I quietly helped a little girl with her math homework and tried to ignore the sound of screaming elementary schoolers playing Twister in the next room. Then two of the program’s girls, aged eight and nine, entered the center after a quick run to the corner store. They had bought treats with coins their mothers had given them; one held a box of Nerds candies, the other a miniature strawberry ice-cream bar. All of a sudden, the other children gathered around them in amazement. “That ice-cream costs 35 CENTS!” yelled one little boy. The kids were astonished that she was regularly able to afford the treat that cost a quarter and a dime. “Your momma must be rich!”
Watching the scene, I sat in ashamed silence. Any thoughts of my missing backpack had completely vanished.
I was reminded at that moment that my problems pale in comparison to those of the poor and marginalized. Those kids needed help, and even if it was just correcting their homework for an hour each week, it was my duty to offer any assistance I could.
In high school, I spent my summers working in the courts of inner-city Philadelphia. Every day, I encountered laid off workers struggling to keep their homes amidst foreclosure, mothers who lost sons to streets plagued by gun violence, and children forced to sell drugs in order to pay for lunch. Yet my most profound witness to poverty was that day in the projects, watching the children’s faces as they gathered around the $0.35 strawberry ice-cream bar. Wonder shone in their eyes as if it were a diamond ring.
Social justice has long been a tenet of a Holy Cross Jesuit education. As former Director of Speechwriting for President Obama and fellow Crusader Jon Favreau ’03 poignantly noted, “Holy Cross challenged us to think about how we could help change the social, political, and economic structures that contributed to the persistent poverty and inequality that so many of us witnessed just beyond our college gates.” In fact, his job interview with then-Senator Obama was spent comparing their shared experiences working with the poor in Worcester and Chicago. Furthermore, as Pope Francis recently stated in his Evangelli Gaudium, the poor “have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them…none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice”.
As we start a new year on campus, I encourage both current and future Holy Cross students, if you haven’t already, to explore opportunities to serve the Worcester community in your spare time. It is a humbling and moving experience, and one you will never forget.
Amy Casey '18