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Jan. 19, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 9

Boston College students share a meal at a Boston youth hostel during their week in the Urban Immersion Program.

One Week Provides Lifetime of Lessons

Campus Ministry's Urban Immersion Program opens BC students' eyes to the realities of homelessness and poverty in Boston

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

For some Boston College students Christmas break this year ended with a break from their ordinary lives.

While many students used the final week of vacation to enjoy the comforts of home, 22 students spent the week living in a hostel, working at a food bank, visiting the poor and discussing urban issues.

Known as "Urban Immersion" and sponsored by Campus Ministry, the week-long program held Jan. 8 - 14 sent students to locations throughout Boston to work and live among the homeless, hungry and lonely.

Urban Immersion Program participants Jonathan Rose 06 and Pamela Flagg '08 pack boxes for the needy at the Boston Food Bank.

Participants lived at a hostel in the Back Bay during the week, where some rose each morning at 5:30 a.m., ate a light breakfast and went to work in locations around the city. In the evening the group that served at Haley House at 6 a.m., prepared the dinner for the group at 6 p.m.

The students worked at the Greater Boston Food Bank, St. Francis House, Rosie's Place and Haley House. The students also visited the older people through Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.

"As we worked through the week and heard stories from the various men and women who use services such as the soup kitchens and shelters we visited, it became clear that homelessness is a condition that does not always begin by problems like substance abuse or other conscious decisions," said Pamela Flagg, a sophomore Secondary Education major in the Lynch School of Education who hails from Sutton, Mass.

After each day the group met for reflection. The students are asked to consider questions such as: What is poverty? Are people poor because they are lazy? Is there a difference between charity and justice? What are the problems and possibilities of urban life today? How do I respond as a person of faith?

Campus Minister Donald MacMillan, SJ, with students Alexander Prounis '09 and Peggy Fox '08 at the Boston Food Bank.

"What I did not anticipate was how the Urban Immersion experience would cause me to challenge some of my preconceived notions of homelessness and poverty in urban areas, specifically the city of Boston." said Flagg.

"I was exposed to a part of society that is often times ignored by the middle class: the elderly, the impoverished, the homeless, and sometimes a mixture of the three," said Connor Fitzpatrick '08, of Southbury, Conn. "After my experiences I don't think I could ever see myself going back to ignoring the issues of homelessness and poverty and not use at least a small portion of my time for others."

A Boston College campus minister accompanied the group throughout the week.

"We study a variety of urban issues such as racism, homelessness, mental illness and theological perspectives on urban life," said Campus Minister Fr. Donald MacMillan, SJ. "Selected readings from Scripture and various Jesuit documents are read and used as a basis of discussion about what we need to do as educated women and men. Also we find that some students have never been near a homeless person before or spoken with one. They learned that homelessness is not just a statistic you read about in the newspaper."

Various speakers visited with the group in the evenings to share their ministries with the students, including Boston College alums.

Students would later reflect on some of the highs and lows they experienced during the day.

"The students break down in to small groups and share among themselves what they've experienced," said MacMillan.

"For me though the greatest thing I gained from the experience was during the reflections," said Fitzpatrick. "Each night we had a reflection and connected our experiences from the day to the bigger issues. Often times we would discuss what we would do, now that we have these experiences, what changes would we make in our own lives and in the world around us."

This year the week started with the Mass of the Epiphany. Each was asked to be aware of the various epiphanies they would experience throughout the week. Before the evening meal they took time to pray for their new friends and for the gifts they have all been given.

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