July 26, 2012

MISSION MATTERS: Sidewalk of Tears

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St. Ignatius invites us to reflect on our actions from time to time to be able to learn how God is present or trying to direct our lives. This may be a good time for our own reflection as an institution about the response to the events of last week.

Some of our students, faculty and staff considered last Tuesday their own sidewalk of tears. Some of our fellow sons and daughters of Saint Louis University were forced from their comfortable and safe routines to the sidewalk of Lindell Boulevard. to watch the horror of the destruction of their homes. Some wept, some silently stared, all stood in helplessness and inability to understand why or how this could be happening.

Quickly they were joined by the curious, the observers, but also people like most of us looking for ways to help to lighten their burdens. St. Louis firemen and police quickly responded to ensure the safety of all. Like first responders throughout the world, they entered the burning building to make sure all the residents had escaped the ever-expanding flames, and to try to control and contain the damage. Forgetting their own safety, they searched for anyone who needed their help. Thank God, all people were safe and this is the real focus of our gratitude and prayers.

Almost as quickly, the SLU community responded. Unlike the professional first responders, members of our community began to search out members of our community to offer whatever assistance we could or simply to show they cared, they were standing with those unfortunates in this time. You could find the president, staff, faculty and fellow students trying to live the Mission of the University, our shared Mission, in the gritty reality of that smoke-filled sidewalk.

This came in many small, but really, huge acts. Four graduate students bought pizzas for fellow students they had never met before. For one faculty member it became real in driving to the scene, after seeing the smoke from across town, to search out some of his students. For a SLU student's mother, who was going to the Muny, it meant changing plans to stop by to offer her home to anyone who needed shelter. And for our University, it meant administration and staff, quickly preparing rooms in one of our residence halls and beginning to initiate responses that will continue into the weeks ahead.

So even as the building kept burning, sending smoke and more heat over this sidewalk of tears, there began to settle on all a blanket of care for others. This comforting has continued since then, and has expanded to people beyond our campus. Offers of assistance, contributions and help have come from all over St. Louis. Businesses, churches and individuals have opened their lives to try to comfort the residents who have lost almost everything in their lives-except, thank God, their lives. Saint Louis University offices have mobilized to cut through processes to get lives back together, and determine needs. The comforting blanket which began to be felt in the reality of Tuesday evening has grown.

We can all celebrate and feel grateful that we live and work in a community who cares for others, but we should not be surprised. Our mission is to serve humanity, whoever they may be, in whatever ways we can. This means that like the prophet Abraham, we are called to welcome the strangers in their time of need. This means, like Ignatius, we need to serve others even though we may not know them, or they have been shunned by others.

In the past week, we have seen and acted to support suffering members of our community. We have all shared, directly or indirectly, in reaching out to those in tears, physically or mentally, trying to show them we share their pain; we are with them. People at Saint Louis University and the City of St. Louis have shown how our Mission of serving others is lived in simple things. For this we need to celebrate and be grateful to God and all.

Let us resolve that we will not let our concern for others be only in the time of hurricanes, tornados or fires and disasters, natural or otherwise. Let us resolve to continue to search for ways to serve and care for all people, in all times, in their need.

To comfort those in tears, to accompany those in doubt and to give hope by our little actions; this is our Mission, serving all those with whom we share the sidewalks of our lives.

Paul Stark, S.J.

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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