‘Sacred Shelter’ Offers Stories of Hope From Formerly Homeless

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Through faith, transformation and spiritual growth, more than 600 homeless people in New York have been propelled to a better life in recent decades thanks to the Education Outreach Program sponsored by archdiocesan Catholic Charities.

Many of their stories are told in an inspiring new book called “Sacred Shelter,” (Fordham University Press, 2019). The firsthand accounts are based on interviews with 13 people who experienced homelessness and were lifted up by life skills programs.

The programs coordinate with Jewish community groups, making these acts of compassion interfaith efforts.

Susan Celia Greenfield, an English professor at Fordham University, edited the book. She was among the speakers at the recent book launch of “Sacred Shelter” at the Lincoln Center campus of Fordham. Other speakers included Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, and several former homeless people who graduated from Catholic Charities and interfaith programs, and who contributed to the book by telling their stories to Dr. Greenfield.

“Homelessness is not hopelessness,” Msgr. Sullivan said in his remarks at the event, citing the success stories in the book and in interfaith efforts in general.

“And we say thanks be to God,” added Msgr. Sullivan, who expressed his gratitude for the work of staff and volunteers of his agency, and everyone associated with the mission and the book.

Dr. Greenfield gave special thanks to Fordham University Press for publishing “Sacred Shelter” and to the 13 formerly homeless people who graduated from Catholic Charities and interfaith life skills programs and allowed their stories to be published.

“You are the stars tonight,” she said.

She also thanked George Horton, director of the Department of Social and Community Development of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, and Marc Greenberg, executive director of the Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing (IAHH). They were key players when Catholic Charities and IAHH launched the Education Outreach Program in 1989.

Testimonials from graduates informed the nearly 200 guests how some homeless shelters were clean and well organized, but conditions at others didn’t come close to those standards. The graduates, who now lead productive lives working, studying and reunited with relatives, spoke about their gratitude for program volunteers, Catholic Charities and Dr. Greenfield, and everyone else who played a part in their journey of hope.

Among the graduates who spoke was Sophia Worrell, who was master of ceremonies. “I’m proud to be one of them,” an emotional Ms. Worrell said in her remarks. She spoke of her pride in being a program graduate who contributed to the book with the hope of inspiring others affected “by the deep pain and suffering” of being homeless.

Ms. Worrell told CNY that she felt special joy in serving as master of ceremonies, and that she now works as a paid staff member of a local homeless shelter.

Deborah Canty, also a program graduate, led the closing prayer. She chose the Serenity Prayer, often used by Alcoholics Anonymous in its rehabilitation program. Twelve of the 13 program graduates featured in “Sacred Shelter” attended the book launch, which was followed by a reception. About 25 program graduates attended.

Also speaking at the book launch were Father Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, and Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of the Ansche Chesed Synagogue in Manhattan.

“You learn that you actually can bring more light to the world,” said Rabbi Kalmanofsky, speaking about the interfaith efforts to help the homeless. He noted that the candle lighting of the menorah signifies the Hanukkah hope of creating more lights of peace.

Father McShane, noting the historic Judeo-Christian bond, reminded all that there was a Happy Hanukkah sign in the lobby of the building. “We Christians are your younger sisters and brothers,” he told the rabbi.

He also noted that Fordham students are taught about the Gospel message to help the poor.

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