“Like Mary and John at the foot of the Cross”: Inside Christ in the City

Makena Clawson has been involved with Christ in the City (CIC) since she was in college. She now serves as a full-time missionary.

“Growing up, I always had a special interest in the homeless. I would see them on the street corners and it would hurt my heart to see them suffering like that, but I was so afraid. I didn’t know how to serve,” she said.

Clawson said CIC gave her the training she needed to serve the homeless. She learned basic safety protocol (CIC Missionaries don’t walk the streets alone, but in mixed-gender groups). She was advised on how to talk to people on the street (like anyone else, just make eye contact and introduce yourself first so they don’t feel like they’re on the defensive). But most importantly, she said she’s learned how to spiritually serve the poor.

“Our job is not to alleviate their problems. It’s to be like Mary and John at the foot of the cross. We can’t take them down from the cross, but we can be there with them in their pain,” Clawson said.

Christ in the City missionaries at Lunch in the Park.

Christ in the City missionaries at Lunch in the Park.

THE MANY MINISTRIES OF A MISSIONARY
According to its website, Christ in the City’s mission is to form “missionaries in loving, knowing and serving the poor and empowering others to do the same.”

The practicalities of this can be messy, but Clawson said she has made many “friends on the street,” the phrase CIC missionaries use for those they serve.

“They really have become my friends. They’re not just homeless people or people we serve, but friends,” Clawson said.

On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, all the first-year missionaries go out and do “street walks” on the 16th Street Mall, Capitol Hill, and Speer area. They typically approach their territory in teams of three, two girls and at least one guy. The missionaries simply look for friends on the street to chat with. Many of them are already familiar with Christ in the City and have a rapport with them missionaries.

“I play cards with a lot of my friends,” Clawson said.

The missionaries might also use this time to do extra favors for their friends on the street. For example, Clawson has a pregnant friend who she takes to prenatal appointments. Some missionaries help friends budget. Clawson and some of the other missionaries have also cleaned the apartment of a disabled friend who is now in subsidized housing.

“He’s really good at spades,” Clawson said.

TIME FOR COMMUNITY

The missionaries eat breakfast and dinner together in their shared house. They all gather in a community chapel for prayers and Holy Hour and attend formation classes on Fridays. Most of the missionaries live two to three in a room.

Clawson said she has about six inches of closet space in which to hang up all of her clothes. She also said that community life is what enables her to do her missionary work.

“Without our community, I wouldn’t be able to function as a missionary,” Clawson said.

A Christ in the City missionary talks to a friend.

A Christ in the City missionary talks to a friend.

Monday nights are for deep cleaning the house. Tuesday is community night, which can include anything from woodcarving to karaoke. Wednesday mornings are for formation with consecrated men and women from the Christian Life Movement, then serving at Lunch in the Park.

Afternoons are often devoted to office work, such as coordinating the different volunteer groups who will come to visit or helping prospective missionaries apply.

Each of the missionaries also has a night ministry.

“IT’S REALLY HUMBLING”

Clawson does her night ministry at Samaritan House, where there is an overflow shelter for women.

“There are a lot more women homeless than you would expect, but you never see them because it’s so dangerous for them to be on streets,” Clawson said. “Some of the younger women deal with trafficking issues or prostitution. I know a lot of women on the street who have been raped or abused. A lot of women will seek a man to protect them. Even if they don’t want the relationship to become sexual, it often does in order to keep that protection.”

Clawson eats dinner with the women, and then waits in line with them while the sleeping accommodations are set up.

She said she is painfully aware of how blessed she is in those moments. She said she knows one woman who works two jobs, but still sleeps at the Samaritan House every night. Clawson said this woman is fortunate because she is able to make it to a job instead of waiting in line for various documents or benefits all day.

Clawson said that it is difficult for many homeless to get a job because they do not have a permanent address for applications or eventual checks. The homeless carry everything they have with them, which employers can frown upon. In addition, basic cleanliness required for a job can be difficult for those living on the streets.

Clawson said she often thinks about these things while waiting with her peers.

“It’s so strange. You know that something is wrong that they’re there…I think about my situation and all the benefits and blessings I have, and it’s really humbling,” Clawson said.

That humility, in addition to the community life, is what helps Clawson maintain longevity in her ministry.

“If you’re going to bring them to one resource, you have to be willing to bring them through it. If I’m going to take my
friend to this first appointment at Bella and tell her that I want her to keep her child, then I need to be with her for the whole pregnancy,” Clawson said.

The ministry isn’t easy, Clawson said, but it helps to keep in mind that she isn’t supposed to be every friend’s savior.

“You realize very quickly that you are powerless in the face of their pain. You can’t fix their lives. But you can love them,” Clawson said.

VOLUNTEER WITH CHRIST IN THE CITY

Lunch in the Park: Every Wednesday and the second Saturday of every month.

10 a.m. training at 605 West 6th Ave., lunch at 12 p.m. at Capitol Hill Park, Colfax and Broadway.

Check christinthecity.co for needed items and Saturday dates.

Street walks: Friday nights at 7 p.m. at 605 West 6th Ave. Training will precede actual streetwalk.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash