Walking along the halls of SLS16, I noticed roaming grocery carts and cardboard signs. As poverty is wont to do, these stood in staunch contrast to the decadence of the Hilton Anatole with it’s gleaming polish and glittering lights. This glaring dichotomy struck not only my eyes and senses, but my conscience as well; I had just enjoyed an overpriced meal but what had those living on the periphery had to eat on this cold January night?
“Christ in the City is a Catholic nonprofit dedicated to forming missionaries in Knowing, Loving and Serving the Poor and empowering volunteers to do the same.”
Founded by Jonathan Reyes five years ago (2010), Christ in the City was “adopted by the Christian Life Movement as the service arm of their mission in the United States” and is a “way to form young people to be life-long missionaries.” The two missionaries I met, Phillip and Amanda, were generous to give me a few minutes of their time.
Thank you for giving me your time. Could you tell me about your ministry and how it got started?
Christ in the City (CIC) was founded by Jonathan Reyes. He first dreamed of having an army of Catholics to help with the New Evangelization. After lots of discernment and experience, it became a formation program for missionaries so that they can offer outreach to the homeless. What this mission entails is going out to the streets pretty much every day to different areas in Denver and meeting with the homeless. Missionaries offer whatever help they can and engage each homeless as a person. Sometimes the homeless are ignorant of the resources available in Denver; in that case the missionaries offer their knowledge of the shelters and where to get food. Sometimes the missionaries accompany the homeless to get social security or their identification. What is most common – the people we mostly work with – are the chronically homeless, those who know about these resources but don’t take advantage of them for whatever reasons.
What the missionaries offer them that no other organization does at least in the Denver area, is this constant accompaniment, this loving friendship that seeks to inspire the homeless to live a more dignified life. To encounter their dignity again and maybe ask themselves the question “am I meant for more.”
What areas in Denver do you cover?
We’re mostly located in downtown Denver since that is where the majority of resources for the homeless are located. The homeless themselves are generally there as well.
Phillip, what got you personally involved with CIC?
In my case, I’m a consecrated layman with the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae. I was in Peru before and I was sent to help with the formation of the missionaries.
Amanda, what caused you to become a missionary with CIC?
This is my second year with CIC and I initially heard about it through an alternative spring break mission trip my Junior year of college. I came out and experienced CIC during that week and then applied the end of my Senior year to see what would happen. I was accepted and came out after I graduated in 2014. I served last year and then I was given the opportunity to stay and sign on to be a missionary for a second year. This is the first year that Christ in the City has had second year missionaries alongside first year missionaries.
Was the mission trip that got you involved with CIC connected with a specific organization?
I went with my Newman Center. Every year, especially around March, groups come to CIC and stay for a week. It gives college students a week experience of mission, but in the U.S. Seeing that those who need to hear the Gospel are right here!
And the cart you have, is it for promotion here at FOCUS or does it have more to it?
It is partially for that. In the end, something that a lot of the missionaries who come on these mission trips with CIC experience is that it is very raw. You find that you meet people who aren’t exactly agreeable. It is true that you meet some people who are excited to meet you; some homeless never get spoken to so when they have someone approach them just wanting to talk, it is very exciting for them. But other people are subject to addiction, mental illness, or just rejection so they can be very bitter.
The intention of the cart is to simulate the rawness of what we see. We’ve kind of posed as homeless here to offer a friendly challenge in a very similar situation that we experience – going up to a person and engaging in conversation. In that sense, it is to reflect the rawness of homelessness and to offer a friendly challenge.
Do you do your own fundraising?
We ask missionaries to raise at least $6000 which is one-third of the cost of their formation, living expenses, etc. If they want any personal salary or to have special insurance during their time at CIC, they are asked to fund raise more. We give them help and tools to do so.
How long can someone be a CIC missionary?
The program is very new, only about five years so the current max is two years as a missionary. There are a number of missionaries who have been hired on, but the missionary program itself is only two years.
Where do you foresee this going in the future and what kind of impact do you think you are having on Denver?
I certainly have a lot of dreams for it but it is hard to project exactly. We have a number of invitations: Philadelphia, Kansas City, Los Angeles. A lot of these places and others could use CIC since we offer something that no other organization does. It is hard to project, but I really think CIC has a place in most if not every major city; those that are trying to offer resources, but can’t quite reach the chronically homeless or those in the rut of despair.
We’re limited by the missionaries, but our program is really growing. I think that in the next few years we’ll be able to see about expanding in a bigger sense to another city. Even if it is just with a handful of missionaries in a grassroots fashion. I think that Philadelphia is the most likely possibility at this point.
How do you work with bishops?
We’ve had invitations from lay people, parishes, and I’m not sure if we’ve had a direct invitation from a bishop yet. Naturally we would want to cooperate with him and we wouldn’t go into a diocese unless we had the bishop’s approval.
Archbishop Chaput helped get us started in Denver and we feel extremely indebted to him for all of his support. He certainly took very good care of us as well as Archbishop Aquila. Chaput offered a lot of resources to make this happen and the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae have a community in Philadelphia as well. With both, we are more equipped to help accompany the missionaries which is why Philadelphia is the most likely second city.
Where do the missionaries end up going after they complete their time with CIC?
We know a number of missionaries that began working within various Catholic charitable organizations. Others have gone on to receive degrees in Psychology, mental health, so as to basically continue the same vein started in CIC. We have other missionaries who have come for just a summer for example, who have been touched by the experience and have wanted to integrate it into their studies in a unique way.
To offer an example, we have a website we use all the time. If we are in a difficult spot trying to remember or figure out what to offer a specific person, we can use the site to see what shelters are available, or what resources are available for this person’s specific needs. This caught the attention of a summer service missionary who is studying computer programming. He is actually making a beta version that he has called “ResourceLink” to offer resources in every major city in the U.S. Kind of a high project and it is only a year old at this point, but for us, we are very excited about it and wish him the best. Right now it is in the form of a website. After the website is fully up, we’d like to see about making it in App form so as to make it more available. His dream serves our mission perfectly.
Could you tell me briefly about the formation process for the missionaries?
We have people who offer spiritual direction and guidance within the program and this makes it an integral formation for the missionaries. The missionaries live in community and they have hours of prayer. While living in community, they have house chores, duties, etc. They get intellectual formation, and in Denver we partner with Augustine Institute to help offer that formation. Credits are offered through University of Mary and the Augustine Institute has recently offered credits towards a Bachelors for second year missionaries.
The formation is integral, and the saying we have is “you can’t give what you don’t have.” We intend to receive everything we have from Christ so we can announce Christ to the person on the streets.
Thank you for your time and God Bless your efforts!