In 2005, the New York Times declared the Bronx the poorest urban county in the country, with almost 50% of South Bronx residents living below the poverty line. Accordingly, the lives of many Bronx residents are not easy; however, one might not think this to be the case when observing the attitudes of the people. For, while run-down buildings and littered sidewalks hint at the county’s underlying destitution, its people remain spirited and lively, playing loud music out their windows, lounging and laughing with each other outside, and, of course, dancing whenever the opportunity presents itself. That is where I have seen God at work the most in my AV experience so far: in the spirit, faith, and hope of the Bronx people.
About a month ago, our church, St. Nicholas of Tolentine, was set on fire. Thankfully, nobody was hurt; yet, the same could not be said for church itself, whose vestibule was destroyed, doors burned, and wiring affected. Both parishioners and pastor of “The Cathedral of the Bronx” were left disheartened, though not for long. Soon after, a group of parishioners vowed to hold an outside “Stations of the Cross” ceremony that had been planned for that evening.
Newsflash to the culprit of the fire: It is going to take more than a few flames to shake the faith of this community. You may have damaged the physical church, but the most important part – the people – is still around and planning to attend mass in St. Nick’s Elementary School’s gym until the church building is restored. Faith really does play a vital role here in the Bronx. Poor residents are faced with daily hardships and anxieties; yet, at the end of the day, they still trust in their God – a God who offers them comfort and the opportunity for them to grow closer to Him during difficult times. Their fortitude truly inspires me.
I witness God at work in the residents of Siena House (the homeless shelter for pregnant women and children under three years old where I volunteer) as well, who, despite their oftentimes unfortunate circumstances, preserve a hope for the future that keeps them going. Not to say that the women do not at times feel overwhelmed or downcast – those are only natural feelings to have when raising a baby on your own, meanwhile trying to find both affordable housing and a job in today’s economy that will allow for you to move into your own place so as to escape the curfew and communal bathrooms of a shelter – but it is never long after they express their troubles to me that it seems their mood changes. All it takes is a glance down at their child, or swollen belly for some, and they are reminded of the reason they need to stay strong and persistent: the sake of their baby’s future. “All I can do is pray,” voiced one of the women to me. It is God who gives them such strength and radiant hope, for He promised never to give us more than we can bear.
God’s work is also visible within our 4-person community (temporary residents of the Bronx) in the way that God has helped me and my roommates discover more about ourselves and each other through celebrating our differences and forming supportive relationships with one another. Moreover, I have become aware of how God acts through each of us as we serve at our respective work sites, which increases our sense of duty toward those we serve, though at the same time also reminds us how God may be working through others to reach us.
The faith and resilience of the Bronx people, for example, has inspired me to further strengthen my relationship with God and those around me, and has reminded me to see life’s challenges as gifts to grow in Christ. For, as those from the Bronx know, even in the darkest darkness of winter, there will always remain hope for spring.
Bronx, NY 2009-2010