AmericanCatholic.org
 
Skip Navigation Links
Home
Catholic News
Saints
Seasonal
Special Reports
Movies
Shopping
Donate
Share:
Facebook
Twitter
Google Plus
LinkedIn
Email
RSS Feeds
opinion/commentary View Comments

Prayers of Street Kids
By Kevin Ryan
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Click here to email! Email | Click here to print! Print | Size: A A |  
 
How often do you get to listen to another person's prayer? If you're kneeling in church, you're either joining your voice with others, or minding your own silent intercessions. But at our Covenant House in New York City, where we have a chapel with a red carpet and tiny altar in our shelter for homeless, trafficked and runaway young people, there is a simple, cloth-bound book the kids write their prayers in. Its contents are worth contemplating.

During this Lenten season, as we prepare to mark the suffering and resurrection of the Son of God, I found it extremely moving to come to understand some of the pleas of these children of the street, who desperately hope for their own rebirth.

I was reminded of the courage it takes some of our kids just to walk through the door. Teenagers, by nature, often feel invincible and fiercely independent, and it hurts to admit they can't go it alone. Once they have admitted their vulnerability, they need strength to accept, trust and work with the help we give them. Many quickly embrace the food, clean clothes, medical care and warm beds we offer, but it takes so much longer for many of them to accept our belief that they can attain their dreams.

As one young person wrote, with a lovable humility not often associated with adolescence:

"Dear heavenly Father, Please give me the strength to go on through my stay at Covenant House. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and not wrong. And please give me the strength to make the right decisions about the things that occur. I know I haven't been making the right decisions, but I'd like to better that."

Reading through the kid's recorded prayers, I was reminded of the importance of fathers, both heavenly and otherwise. Oftentimes, earthly fathers disappoint our kids deeply. One of our young people told God, "Being without a mom because she died and having a father who hated me and wished I'd leave, I was so glad you were there for me."

Another wrote, "God, please let my father accept me. I want to be something in life. I want him to be a part of my life." But the saddest entreaty read, "Dear Lord, please don't let my father get me."

The entries—sonnets of Lenten hope and despair from kids of the street—were crushing and inspiring. They made me want to be the best possible father to my own six birth kids, and the kids we welcome in from the streets.

This simple plea somehow got me most of all, but it also gave me the most hope: "Dear God," this young person wrote, "If you're there and you care, I just want someone to love me, someone to talk to when I need to talk. Someone to cry on when I need to cry. Most of all someone to love me and walk as far as they wish through my life. Amen."

Isn't that what a parent does, in the luckiest families? A true parent walks as far as they want, and many miles more, to make a child feel safe and nurtured. But most of our kids have parents who, if they're even in the picture, stumbled out of the block and sat out that long walk. So it's God who walks with them, a God they may have trouble seeing and touching.

And this doesn't happen remotely and mystically—the love that uplifts youth and allows them to soar into the great promise of their lives flows through us, through focused, committed adults. Not some remote institution, and certainly not government. We, the people of God, have to be the icons of Christ's love in the world, each of us.

Couldn't you or I walk with these kids? Couldn't we reach out to an individual young person, with a regular phone call, visit, letter or email? Many volunteer mentors at Covenant House have developed long-standing, fulfilling relationships with our young people, offering them the encouragement and understanding they so often lack. With the proper screening and training, you could be the answer to this young person's prayer.

In fact, this prayer reminded me so much of the parable in Matthew 25:40, where Jesus separates the righteous from the cursed, based on the compassion they had shown to the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the needy and those in prison.

One of our kids writes, "Dear Lord, This is your son. I am writing you today to thank you from stopping the pain and helping me get through my ordeal that I'm facing. Help me get my life right and find a job. Amen I love you."

How like Jesus is this kid—humbled in the face of suffering, devoted, God's own son. And Jesus was thinking about people like our homeless kids when he said, "Truly I say to you, to the extent that you (helped) one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me."

Unfortunately, some kids struggle openly with despair. One writes, "Dear Lord, today I am severely depressed. I'm very scared because I might hurt myself but I really don't want to because I think I have a lot to offer in life. But I really am thinking of giving up. Please show me the way, Lord."

And when one writes, "Lord, please take me home," I worry and wonder if they mean home to Long Island for a new beginning, or home to heaven, to end the struggle they face here. Please keep their prayers in your prayers.

Kevin Ryan is president and CEO of Covenant House, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless, runaway and at-risk youth across America.



More Catholic Community Speaks
blog comments powered by Disqus


John of Capistrano: It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events. 
<p>Imagine being born in the 14th century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times. </p><p>John Capistrano was born in 1386. His education was thorough. His talents and success were great. When he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia. Imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas, he resolved to change his way of life completely. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later. </p><p>His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion. </p><p>The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed and the "Spirituals" were freed from interference in their stricter observance. </p><p>He helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement. </p><p>When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, he was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to an infection after the battle. He died October 23, 1456.</p> American Catholic Blog When we are linked by the power of prayer, we as it were, hold each other’s hand as we walk side by side along a slippery path; and thus by the bounteous disposition of charity, it comes about that the harder each one leans on the other, the more firmly we are riveted together in brotherly love. —St. Gregory the Great

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
When the Church Was Young
Be inspired and challenged by the lives and insights of the Church's early, important teachers.
Newly released in audio!
One of Merton's most enduring and popular works, now in audio!
Fearless
Learn about the saints of America: missionaries, martyrs, bishops, heiresses, nuns, and natives who gave their lives to build our Church and our country.
New Seeds of Contemplation
One of the best-loved books by one of the greatest spiritual writers of our time!
Catholics, Wake Up!
“A total spiritual knockout!” – Fr. Donald Calloway

 
CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Anointing of the Sick
May all who suffer pain, illness or disease realize that they are chosen to be saints.
St. John Paul II
“…let us always give priority to the human person and his fundamental rights.” St. John Paul II
Godparents
For the one to be baptized, godparents represent the Christian Catholic community, the Church.
Birthday
You have the heart and soul of a child of God, no matter how long you've been around.
World Mission Sunday
The Church in North America sprang from the blood of martyrs such as this missionary and his companions.



Come find us at: Facebook | St. Anthony Messenger magazine Twitter | American Catholic YouTube | American Catholic


An AmericanCatholic.org Site from the Franciscans and Franciscan Media Copyright © 1996 - 2014