Sunday, April 27, 2014

"Miracle of the Multiplication of the Chicken Wings": Kathy Philipps' Presentation at the Annual Peace & Justice Awards

Last night the Catholic Commission of Lake and Geauga County's 24th Annual Peace and Justice Dinner was held at the Center for Pastoral Leadership at Borromeo/St. Mary's Seminary in Wickliffe, Ohio. This extraordinary event will almost surely not get any media coverage so I thought I better write about it.

The evening opened with an hour of socializing followed by dinner, and I think that was the best way to proceed because we got to talk to old friends and meet new ones. One serendipitous meeting for me was with Tony Montanini, the husband of one of the Karpos Ministry workers, Kathy Montanini. Tony grew up in Leroy Township and knew my old Notre Dame/Innsbruck buddy Mike Celizic (as well as Mike's parents, Chuck and Lola, and Mike's brother Charlie). Tony had not heard of Mike's death from cancer a few years ago. I talked with Tony and many of my friends from the Thursday night Karpos meal for the homeless and hungry at St. Mary's Church in Painesville: Jan, Judy, Brian Rice, Ed and Christa Zivkovich, Kathy Flora, Dan Philipps, and others. After the social hour and dinner, Kathy Philipps was introduced and began her presentation.

Kathy Philipps doing her presentation on Hospitality, Hunger, and Homelessness
The presentation, featuring PowerPoint slides, was eye-opening and inspirational
Kathy Philipps' presentation was extraordinary, and gave an intellectual and theological rationale for the work we do in the Karpos ministry for the hungry and homeless--work we do every week of the year. Kathy co-founded this ministry with Gregg Stovicek some 4 or 5 years ago. Even the little things we do (the way we present the food and greet the diners, for example) has an intellectual and theological/biblical basis, and I found that incredible. My own approach to this work has been mostly instinctive rather than intellectual and theological and I really appreciate the framework that Kathy Philipps gave for this work. Her ideas apply to many other programs that encounter the homeless and hungry (and those with similar needs). It really connects with the Catholic Worker approach I experienced in New York City and Tivoli, NY, and in the Davenport, Iowa Catholic Worker where I lived during the summer of 1976.

Kathy told of our work this winter hosting an emergency warming shelter--38 nights during this cold and snowy winter St. Mary's opened the gym to the homeless. Some folks might have frozen to death if not for this. She also told a funny story about how one Wednesday or Thursday night meal we were way short of food. And somehow, let's say miraculously, the 100 chicken wings became 200, and everyone was fed. Often these are miracles of generosity, when in a moment of need someone just walks in with extra food from a reception or a funeral, and all of a sudden we have enough for everyone. Of course, careful planning and thought goes into the preparation and serving of our suppers--but we always leave room for the Holy Spirit and for the miraculous. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, would have understood and appreciated this.

Kathy's presentation showed the incredible extent of the hunger problem, even in prosperous Lake and Geauga Counties. At a given time there can be around 9000 children in wealthy Geauga County who are hungry. Lake County has many more than that. And in Cuyahoga County--the hunger problem is huge.

Kathy left me with an image of the new Pope Francis, with a lamb held over his shoulders, and the smell of the sheep on his skin and clothes. This is exactly what the Pope has asked of his priests and those who work with the poor--live with them, get the smell of the sheep on themselves:

“This is precisely the reason why some priests grow dissatisfied, lose heart and become in a sense collectors of antiquities or novelties — instead of being shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep' . . . This is what I am asking you, be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” 
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Another nice feature of the evening was chatting with old and new comrades in the work of furthering peace and justice. I got to eat my meal next to Pat Denny and maybe talked her ear off all evening. We sat at a table with Fr. Mark Riley and Missionary Sister, Lisa Valentini (a real character!), and they both told funny stories about their missionary experiences.

Here are a few photos of my Karpos and St. Mary colleagues taken at the dinner last night:

Linda and Jan
Kathy Flora

Pat Denny
Fr. Mark Riley, Dan Philipps, and Sr.Lisa Valentini (missionary sister)
At the end of the evening, the "Sowers of Justice" award was presented to Terry and Donna Hawk, from St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Mentor. Terry and Donna have lived out the gospel injunction of serving the poor and needy for over 25 years, providing meals 2-3 times per month at St. Patrick's on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland, and working with a parish program involving a food pantry and emergency help with rent and utility bills. I felt that their work dovetailed nicely with our work in Painesville and Kathy Philipps' presentation.

A closing prayer was offered by Sr. Rita Mary Harwood, a sister of Notre Dame, who gave us a picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus, untying knots. Such an odd image. Sister said this picture was beloved of Pope Francis. Here is the image:

Sr. Rita Mary connected this image to our own mothers, maybe to all mothers. I felt so deeply moved by the reflection. Click here for Wikipedia's discussion of this painting.

It was such a grace for us to be at the Peace and Justice dinner last evening. We felt renewed and inspired.

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