2022 Assembly Day 4 Recap: New Leadership Blessed at Assembly

The Provincial Council, June 16, 2022. Back row: Frs. Joe Nassal and Jeff Kirch. Front row: Br. Daryl Charron, Frs. Ron Will and Ben Berinti

The newly elected leadership team of the United States Province of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood was blessed and installed on Thursday during the closing liturgy of the Missionaries’ assembly in Indianapolis.

Earlier in the day, the Missionaries elected three more to the provincial council: Fr. Ben Berinti, C.PP.S., second councilor; Fr. Ron Will, C.PP.S., third councilor; and Br. Daryl Charron, C.PP.S., fourth councilor. Fr. Berinti previously served as vice provincial of the Cincinnati Province and is the pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Melbourne Beach, Florida. Fr. Will is the director of the Precious Blood Renewal Center in Liberty, Missouri. Br. Daryl Charron is a former member of the provincial council of the Kansas City Province and serves as the Missionaries’ director of initial formation.
They join Fr. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S., provincial director, and Fr. Joseph Nassal, C.PP.S., vice provincial and first councilor, in leadership. All will serve four-year terms.
In his homily during the closing liturgy, Fr. Berinti drew a parallel between the Magi in search of the Christ child, and the Missionaries setting out as a new province.
“How do we find our way? First and foremost, the Magi were in community. They traveled in the company of one another—wise enough to know this is the best choice when setting off with no ready-made chart that lays out the course.
“All they had to illuminate their terrain and guide them was a star. This is where their map began: with a burning light, with a step taken, with the company of others gazing in the same direction.
“And why did they risk?  My only certainty is that they were being true to who they were. Their life’s work was the stars—and by remaining faithful to their vocation—they not only carried extravagant gifts, they received unbounded gifts.
“As it was for the Magi, as it was for Gaspar, Merlini, Brunner, and Maria—so it is for us.”
The week’s liturgies were rich in symbolism and prayer. During Wednesday’s liturgy, Companions were honored as an integral part of the Congregation. In his homily, Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S., (whose birthday is today!) said that he was first introduced to Precious Blood spirituality through the Companions of St. Joseph, Missouri.
At their gatherings, he said, “I found something I’d been looking for, and in 1992, I made my first covenant. Walking with them helped deepen my faith and helped me understand the spirituality of the Precious Blood.” He was ordained in 2000.
Companion Nancy Clisbee of the St. Joseph, Missouri group offered a reflection after communion that defined the relationship of Companions with the Missionaries: “We are a cloud of co-workers and witnesses to your radical presence in our world. We share your mission to draw all nearer to Christ by His most Precious Blood. We pray, we reach out to, and care for our neighbors. We are food pantry volunteers, communion ministers, social service workers, medical workers, immigration workers, lectors, visitors to the homebound, and more. At our Companion gatherings, we affirm our solidarity with the mission and the people of the Precious Blood family. . . . We draw on the inspiration, the help, and the experience of our sponsors and all members of the wider Community.”
Please pray for those in leadership and all the Missionaries and Companions of the new province, as they continue to follow God’s call to serve all of God’s people, especially those on the margins of society.

2022 Assembly Day 3 Recap: Fr. Jeff Kirch Elected Provincial Director of the United States Province

Frs. Joe Nassal and Jeff Kirsch

Frs. Joe Nassal and Jeff Kirsch in 2019

Fr. Jeffrey Kirch, C.PP.S., was elected the first provincial director of the United States Province of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, during the Missionaries’ assembly in Indianapolis today.

Fr. Kirch will lead the United States Province for a term of four years. He previously served as the provincial director of the Cincinnati Province.
“It’s a privilege to be asked by my brothers in Community to lead the Congregation in the United States as we begin this important part of our shared life,” Fr. Kirch said. “I’m looking forward to working with Missionaries and Companions as we seek to bring to fruition Gaspar’s dream, as well as our dreams. I’m looking forward to continuing to build our relationships in the bond of charity and hearing from one another our hopes and dreams for the future of the Congregation.”
Fr. Kirch thanked the leadership of the two provinces for their efforts to form the new province. “So many people have poured their lives into the mission of this Congregation throughout its history. And that continues,” Fr. Kirch said. “Thinking about all the work that went into this process so far, I’m grateful to the two provincial councils for getting us this far. But we don’t stop here. The work is just beginning. Our task now is to become new wine in new wineskins.”
The new United States Province was created during Morning Prayer at the assembly today. Br. Juan Acuna, C.PP.S., secretary general read the decree from the general council, which had approved the formation of the new province at their meeting on June 12, the anniversary of the canonization of St. Gaspar del Bufalo.
Elected as vice provincial director and first councilor of the new province was Fr. Joseph Nassal, C.PP.S. Fr. Nassal served as the provincial director of the Kansas City Province from 2011 to 2019.
Fr. Emanuele Lupi, C.PP.S., moderator general, opened the electoral assembly after Morning Prayer.
He reminded the Missionaries that the assembly is “the highest authority of the province,” and that the leaders they choose will “reflect the will and dream of the province. These leaders will be representing you, and they will represent the authority, the dream, and the will of the members of the province.”
“This is a historical moment: the first leadership of the new province. This leadership has to plant the roots for the future. We need to seek the spirit of the Lord to be upon us and to express from the truth of our hearts those names that we think will be the best to lead this province in this moment, at the beginning of the new chapter.”
Elections for three additional councilors will continue at the assembly on Thursday.
Meeting with Companions on Wednesday afternoon, Fr. Lupi told the Companions that they were a vital part of the Congregation. In them, the Missionaries can see their own commitment and love of the C.PP.S.—and vice versa. “We are a mirror for each other,” he said.
“Thank you for loving this Community, which I love—and I think it is the best community in the world,” he said.
During a liturgy on Wednesday evening, Lisa Alkier, St. Joseph, Missouri, made her first covenant and 21 Companions renewed their covenants. In their individual covenants, the Companions wrote of their commitment to the Congregation and to the Precious Blood spirituality that it brings to the world. Companions join in the mission and help expand the ministry of the Congregation.
Please pray for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood this week as they step into their future in faith.

2022 Assembly Day 2 Recap: Greg Evers Makes Commitment to Congregation

Gregory Evers, C.PP.S., was definitively incorporated as a Missionary of the Precious Blood today during the Missionaries’ assembly in Indianapolis.
Greg, who will be ordained a deacon in August, grew up in Maria Stein, Ohio, in a parish served by the Missionaries. “I was attracted to the Congregation because of the relationships I had with the members first before I knew anything about the Community’s charism or spirituality. The members are very down-to-earth, approachable people. After some time getting to know the members, I could begin to see myself as one of them,” he said.
Greg’s family members—his parents, Roger and Mary, his siblings, and his grandmother—were present to support him as he made his lifetime commitment to the Congregation.
Fr. Emanuele Lupi, C.PP.S., the moderator general of the worldwide congregation, accepted Greg’s commitment to the Missionaries as he presided at the evening Mass. “Greg will be one of us, together with us in this ministry, in this life,” Fr. Lupi said. “Let us say thank you to Greg for his vocation, for his decision to spend the rest of his life with us.”
Greg was presented with the mission cross of the late Fr. Gene Schnipke, C.PP.S., who died unexpectedly in March. Fr. Ken Schnipke, C.PP.S., gave the mission cross to Greg and also was the homilist at the Mass. “When Greg first started discerning religious life, my brother, Fr. Gene, was one of the first members to meet with him,” Fr. Ken said. “Gene also brought Greg into contact with other Missionaries so he could get to know the Community. Gene’s willingness to share stories about his life as a priest and a Missionary of the Precious Blood gave Greg a sense of his own vocation.”
Near the end of the Mass, the 2022 jubilarians were called forward to be honored. Fr. Lupi noted that the decree of incorporation that Greg had signed during Mass was on the altar alongside the blessing for the jubilarians. Fr. Lupi told Greg to look at the jubilarians for the inspiration that their faithfulness to their calling can provide. He told the jubilarians to look at Greg and remember what it was like to be a new member of the C.PP.S.
In the morning and afternoon sessions, Sr. Maria Hughes, ASC, led discussions about the future United States Province, which will be formed during Morning Prayer on Wednesday. She led a presentation from the provincial directors of the Cincinnati and Kansas City Provinces, Fr. Jeff Kirch, C.PP.S., and Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S., about life in leadership.
“What Jesus’ ministry was, was building relationships, particularly with those who were cut off, pushed aside: the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors,” said Fr. Kirch. “As leaders, building relationships is so important because it really gets to the heart of who we are, not just as Missionaries of the Precious Blood, but as Christians.”
“We recognize all those different bonds that we have: with our lay associates, with the sisters’ congregations, with our partners in mission, with staff at ministry sites,” he continued. “We foster all those different relationships. . . As a new province, as we are continually called to conversion of our lives and ministries, we will build those bonds so that our charism continues to spread in other ways, through the Missionaries, through the relationships we are building.”
In a presentation entitled “New Wine In New Wineskins,” Frs. Joe Nassal, C.PP.S., and David Kelly, C.PP.S., shared their thoughts about the future of the new province. Fr. Kelly, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination this year, said that when he is in meetings, “I find myself often being the oldest person in the group. There’s an advantage to that. I know that I don’t have that much more time; we have to get to the core issues. I can’t wait for good things maybe to happen.
“If not now, what are we waiting for? The cry of the Blood is loud, on the front pages. If we’re waiting around, for who or for what? I really feel there is an urgency for the spirituality we embrace. But we can’t keep it locked in small rooms – it has to go out on the highways and byways and be spread among the people.”
And so, he told the Missionaries and Companions, “Be provocative and take risks.”
Tomorrow at the assembly, the new United States Province will be created during Morning Prayer. Elections will begin for the leadership of the new province.
Please pray for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood this week as they step into their future in faith.

2022 Assembly Day 1 Recap: “Everything is Dependent on the Holy Spirit”

The keynote speaker at the Missionaries’ joint assembly in Indianapolis tonight urged them to be true to who they were called to be, from the very beginning of the Congregation. “Moving forth, you were called to be Missionaries—to see who is right in front of you, most in need,” said Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C.

Fr. Donio told the Missionaries and Companions that the new creation process has already moved them far along already, far beyond what many religious congregations have been able to accomplish. He encouraged the Missionaries to continue to listen to the Spirit in the days ahead, as they celebrate the formation of the United States Province and elect new leadership.

In his opening remarks, Fr. Garry Richmeier, C.PP.S., issued a challenge, “to be open to wherever the Spirit leads us. We all have ideas about what we should or shouldn’t do. But I invite you to come to the discussions, come to our gathering, in that spirit of openness. If we do that, we can’t go wrong.”

Fr. Donio, who is the executive director of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in the United States, said that “we need to recognize that everything is dependent on the Holy Spirit. That is not a pious platitude. God is guiding us,” he said. “In your case, this will happen in and through this charism of St Gaspar because it was the Holy Spirit who inspired him in the first place. And that response became in part, the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. And so too its mission becomes a movement of the Holy Spirit.”

He continued, “And that is where this assembly has an opportunity: root yourself in where the Holy Spirit is moving you.”

The assembly continues through Thursday. Tomorrow’s events include presentations by the provincial directors, discussions among members and Companions, recognition of Missionaries who are celebrating milestone anniversaries this year, and a Mass during which Gregory Evers, C.PP.S.  will make his definitive incorporation into the Congregation.

Please pray for the Missionaries of the Precious Blood this week as they step into their future in faith.



Rachel Weeps for Her Children

from Gabino Zavala, Justice & Peace Director
“Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, marked by lamentation and bitter weeping: Rachel weeping for her children, refused to be consoled for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15
Tuesday afternoon I took a break from writing a reflection on the shooting of Black grocery shoppers in Buffalo by an avowed white supremacist, to watch the news with my mother. As the news unfolded I started to weep. Again. The images of the children and their teachers senselessly murdered made me weep. The smiling images of those children who are no more. Just days before we saw the images of those who went grocery shopping for their families and never came home. Our hearts break for their parents and their families.
There have been 213 mass shootings in the United States this year, 27 of these shootings have occurred in schools. The funerals from the Buffalo shooting have not ended as another mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas takes place. Children should be able to go to school without fearing for their lives. People should be able to go shopping to feed their families without being attacked by someone filled with hatred. Everyone should be able to go to Church without fearing for their lives.
In response to the shooting of those innocent children in Texas Governor Abbott and other Texas politicians blamed a lack of security at the schools. Their solution—more guns. Let’s arm the teachers. Let’s hire more armed security. Let’s not talk about sensible gun laws.
As Precious Blood missionaries, members and companions, we have taken a corporate stance against gun violence. In our corporate stance, We affirm the sacredness of all life. We acknowledge the need to change laws that allow unlimited access to weapons and ammunition of any amount.
We are not talking about taking away the guns of hunters and responsible gun enthusiasts. We are talking about comprehensive gun policy reform. We need stronger universal background checks. We need to address the question of gun ownership and mental illness. We should be more aware of those who espouse racist and hateful ideologies and want to purchase guns. We need to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. We need to dismantle our extreme gun culture.
Why should someone who just turned 18 years old be able to legally buy an assault rifle? Why should no red flags be raised when a young man who is not in law enforcement or in the military has access to body armor? Should this not be of concern to all of us?
There are more than 400,000,000 guns in the United States, We have more guns than people. And yet many politicians tout the rights of the individual to own guns (of any kind) rather than the safety of our children and our communities. Governor Abbott for one has just passed laws making it easier for people to own guns. This is their solution for every problem. But guns everywhere haven’t made us safer; quite the contrary.
Contact your U.S. Representatives and Senators. Tell them that it is time to pass sensible gun laws. Tell them to stop taking money from the gun lobby. Hold them accountable.
You hear people say, “Guns don’t kill, people do!” That’s only half the story. People who are filled with hate, mentally ill, who have evil in their hearts, AND who have easy access to assault rifles and high-capacity magazines kill people.
How much longer will we weep for our children?

Abundance Fills the Soul When Excess Is Stripped Away

2021-2022 Precious Blood Volunteer, Aaron Wise

By Aaron Wise, Precious Blood Volunteer

I called her name. She rose slowly from her chair in the waiting room and hobbled toward me. She gifted me an enthusiastic greeting and a labored smile, that which is socially expected for decency. We entered the exam room, and I initiated the pre-provider tasks: taking vitals, gathering medical and family histories, conducting necessary point-of-care testing, etc. 

Something appeared off. 

Clearly, something deeper ailed my patient. I asked about her day, her holiday plans, her family. I found out the upcoming Thanksgiving would be difficult for her—the first one since losing her daughter. I asked about her daughter. I experienced my sister in Christ’s delight in sharing the memories of someone she loved so dearly. She showed me a beautiful, goofy video of her with her daughter—singing, dancing, and laughing. She teared up, a paradoxical moment of sadness and joy. Her heart was broken; from it oozed the Precious Blood, a combination of both suffering and pure love.

***************

Aaron Wise, at work at KC CARE Health Center

Small drops of blood discolored the white floor. The patient had stepped on a nail in his garage, leaving a small, deep hole in his foot. I cleaned and wrapped the wound, yet this man had little concern for his foot. 

He feared for his mind. He told me he wasn’t right—that something was wrong with his brain, that he was “messed up” in the head. He told me he’d done many drugs and other substances. He’d seen psychiatrists and been given many medications meant to help. None of them worked. He told me he would try one more thing, and if that didn’t work, he had “other arrangements” to take care of it. 

I don’t know what this man has been through in the past. I don’t know what he is going through in the present. But I do know the life of my brother in Christ means something. He has an indelible dignity, despite the ways in which the world, those around him and he, himself, asserts that he is “messed up.” 

***************

It was 2:30 on a warm Saturday afternoon. I was driving home with two friends along Independence Avenue, a busy road in Northeast Kansas City. On a patch of grass between the sidewalk and the road was a body—just yards from my residence. 

I didn’t see it initially, but my friend insisted we return to check. People walked along the sidewalk, past the body. Several cars passed. From a distance, I got a better view of the man. His hat was thrown to the side, his body disheveled and uncomfortably positioned. One arm was raised and yellow. It was clear my brother in Christ was not breathing. 

As we approached, a lady called out from a car to inform us she had called 911. Later, she revealed she had driven by 20 minutes prior, on a delivery. She was appalled by the indifference of hundreds of people who must have witnessed a man unwell on the side of the road. A life had passed—and nobody cared to notice.

***************

thud, thud, thud, thud, thud! It was midnight. I awoke to a cacophonous banging on our door and windows. We answered. Our neighbor frantically reported the house next to ours was on fire. We raced to the other window to witness the entire west side of the building engulfed in flames.

***************

These are but four brief stories among hundreds I’ve experienced working at the KC CARE Health Center in midtown and living in Northeast Kansas City. Interestingly, a few similar connections underly each of these stories and the many others that remain untold. 

First, socioeconomic and racial barriers underpin each situation—access to health care, racism and discrimination, mental health stigmas, or scummy landlords who neglect their responsibility to respond to electrical issues. These injustices fall harder on minorities and those with less money. 

Second, suffering seems to be part of the human condition. There is nothing the individuals in these stories could have done to prevent their hardship. I don’t say this ignoring the role of free will. Yes, each individual may have made choices that contributed to their situations, but the options they had available were severely screened by culture and society, among several other determinants. 

Finally, God is present deeply with those who suffer. These are truths we recognize profoundly in the spirituality of the Precious Blood.

CS Lewis affirmed that heaven is an acquired taste. Jesus is my savior, and it is by His doings—not my own—that I will experience eternal life in union with God. Yet, if you were to bring me to heaven right now, I do not know if I’d like it. I still carry the taste of the world with me: pride, independence, self-servitude, sin. This contrasts with the purity and fullness of love that is heaven. However, through service and the experiences like those shared above, I’ve begun to acquire the taste of Christ. Community, simplicity, and prayer also have been formative for me during the past year.

I’ve practiced community on two levels this year: directly with those with whom I live and also with the global community. 

I live with 18 others, including two families with five children, and sharing life with them has been a beautiful joy. I experience this joy in the form of sharing meals, interests, events, and time. I have countless jubilant memories such as tennis, basketball, soccer, football, Frisbee, ice skating (I love sports), faith sharing, music, etc. 

In terms of the wider community, we focus on conservation, being involved in neighborhood and city policies, and living on a smaller income. Some of the practical aspects of this lifestyle are eating a vegetarian diet, consuming less water and electricity, composting, using a clothesline, paying attention to consumables and reusing when appropriate, and purchasing natural organic local products when available. There is a richness to sharing resources and life in this way.

Aaron with his fellow Precious Blood Volunteers in Chicago

Simplicity is a challenging ideal when we live in a chaotic world. Despite this, I still have been able to find simplicity relative to my previous student lifestyle. I live in a house without Wi-Fi and a phone signal because I strive to remove unnecessary and empty lifestyle choices. Often when we think about simplicity, we focus on what we “give up” and an image of emptiness is invoked. In practice, it is quite the opposite! Removing the superficial and unimportant gives way to a spirit of great abundance—especially in time, relationships and charity.

Finally, prayer is the cornerstone that links everything. My relationship with God has strengthened me to participate and grow in all the ways discussed and also has been strengthened through my experiences. Daily Mass is a joyous gift and receiving the Eucharist has been fuller and more transformative through walking with others as a Precious Blood volunteer.

This year has been formative as I’ve taken little steps along a lifelong journey to acquire the taste of heaven. I invite all of you to join in along the way. As echoed at Jerusalem Farm: The way is long, let us walk together; the way is hard, let us help one another; the way is Christ, Christ is the way.

Aaron served as a Precious Blood Volunteer at KC CARE Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.

Fr. Mark Miller: Stand in Opposition to Execution on May 3rd

PBSI Names First Executive Director

The Precious Blood Spirituality Institute (PBSI) has announced the hiring of its first executive director, Vicky Otto.

Vicky currently serves as the director of Companions (lay associates) for the Cincinnati and Kansas City Provinces of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. She will assume her new position on July 1.

“It is an honor to serve as the first executive director of the Precious Blood Spirituality Institute,” Vicky said. “I look forward to working with each of our communities as we promote and share Precious Blood spirituality. I also look forward to our collaborations when opportunities are identified to reach out to our broken and divided world, offering our spirituality’s many gifts, including healing, hope, reconciliation, and renewal.”

A native of Tucson, Vicky has a long history of parochial and pastoral ministry, as well as administration. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fordham University and an MBA from Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She has been the director of Companions since 2014.

The PBSI is a new partnership of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, and the Sisters of the Precious Blood of Dayton, Ohio. It was formed earlier this year to promote Precious Blood spirituality to the world. The executive director will oversee the administration, programming, and strategic planning of the PBSI, ensuring that it reflects the charisms of the sponsoring congregations.

She will take her place on the PBSI board, which also includes member-representatives of the three congregations.

The provincial councils of the Cincinnati and Kansas City Provinces will soon begin a search for a new director of Companions.

Embracing the Passion

by Holly O’Hara, Communication Director at PBMR

An image of crown of thorns stock photoRecently, I heard this statement at Mass: “The Passion leads to the Glory of the Resurrection.” Hearing it, I was surprisingly shaken. I wondered if this is really true. Does our passion, our suffering, really lead to a resurrection?

Some days here at PBMR, it doesn’t feel like it. At times it’s hard to find hope amidst the suffering and injustice that envelops our youth, families, and neighbors. Some days, it just feels like passion after passion with no clear resurrection in sight. But every time I get to this place of darkness and desolation, God always greets me there, holds me close, and brings me an unexpected radiant light, a renewed hope lifting me from my darkness.

A couple of weeks ago, Sr. Donna invited me to deliver some gift cards to a mother in our community. Grateful for the break from my office and growing to-do list, I accompanied her to the house of one of our youth and his mother. I had heard a great deal about his mom, but this would be the first time I’d get to meet her. As she opened the door, we were greeted with warm hugs and words of welcome. She invited us into her home and introduced us to her children, grandchildren, and others who live under her roof and care. I instantly felt enveloped by the love that flowed through the house, and that emanated from the tiny yet mighty woman standing before me. 

As she took us through her house, she shared about some of the struggles she and her sons have endured over the years—children incarcerated, deceased, and impacted by violence in the streets. As she invited us downstairs into the basement, I was introduced to her son—a young man around my age, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot two years ago. Sitting with him, my heart ached as I listened to the rollercoaster these past two years have been. His mom explained that it was just her and her sons for years, but that they always knew they would be okay because they were together. “We always had each other through it all.” Through the pain and suffering, there was a strong undercurrent of faith, hope, and deep love burning bright between mother and children. As I sat on a box in that basement, a light of hope flickered in the darkness. 

Driving home that night, I was pretty overwhelmed. I could feel my heart bursting with an overabundance of joy and sorrow. I thought about how tempting it would be to not feel this pain and sorrow that I now feel for this family who suffers so greatly, and in not feeling their sorrow, not grappling with my call to do what I can to care for them. But to block out the sorrow and the responsibility, to shy away from the passion, would be to block out the divine joy of being in relationship, and to block out the light of hope that I found in our togetherness. I realized that growing in relationship means taking up this cup of joy and sorrow; embracing the passion to find a resurrection. Meeting our neighbors, growing in relationship with them, feeling their pain, and uniting ourselves to their well-being transforms us. Because now that I know you, I love you, and I care about what happens to you. Now that I know you, I am with you to confront whatever comes our way, together. 

I guess the first step to resurrection is allowing ourselves to see, feel, and experience the Passion—opening ourselves to the sorrows that surround us, and discovering how God is bringing new life and love into the most unlikely of spaces. Jesus’ heart was pierced by a lance—blood and water spilled out—and from that passion, the resurrection followed. So what happens when I allow my heart to be pierced by the sorrows that surround me? Inevitably, it will hurt, and it will likely end my life as I know it, but the love and community that will be born in the most desolate of spaces will shine radiantly like the Easter sun.

Every day, I just pray for the grace to open my heart to the people around me—to draw near to their joy and sorrows alike. To love with arms wide open, unafraid, radically available. People are in pain and suffering whether we look or not, but when we choose to draw near to those who suffer, they no longer suffer alone, and that can change everything. Now we are in it together, and now, at least, we have each other.

There is great hope in knowing that we are not alone and we always have each other, even in our darkest moments.  When we stay together through our times of passion, flames of love and community flicker through the darkness and renew our hope in the promised Resurrection.

This article was featured in the April 2022 edition of the New Wine Press.

Accompaniment

by Vincent Tedford, Precious Blood Volunteer

Last year, I was meditating on Christ’s Passion. Christ’s sacrifice and suffering were a focal point for all my emotions surrounding the injustices I witnessed in the world around me. Nothing else evoked the same emotion for me. However, when I became a Precious Blood Volunteer, I witnessed human suffering on a scale like never before. 

In August of last year, I moved to Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood to begin volunteering at the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR). Within a few hours of landing, I met and heard the stories of those wrongfully convicted and/or formerly incarcerated, the victims of gun violence, the medically underserved, and generally marginalized people with whom I would be spending my year as a Precious Blood Volunteer. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but even on day one I was surprised at the reality our PBMR community was facing. 

Death and loss are in constant competition against the backdrop of hope we try to maintain at PBMR. In the forefront were the daily struggles. I went to the woodshop and worked with guys trying to make enough to get by while learning what it takes to maintain a job; showing up and staying on task often prove to be a struggle for our participants. Early on I was enlightened by the question, “How can you meet basic expectations when your basic needs are lacking?” 

“I don’t have a bed. My family is taking in people all the time and I gave mine up for my brother. He’s in high school, playing sports, so I want him to have the best shot at success.” One of our participants shared this with me while talking about his own journey to a career as an athlete. This young man is willing to make sacrifices, despite the drain on his own potential, for someone else to get a leg up he never had. Something as simple as a good night’s sleep should never be taken for granted.

Vincent (front right) with his fellow Precious Blood Volunteers in Chicago

For some, the threat of violence keeps them up at night; most are experiencing perpetual trauma which would make anyone restless. Just trying to get by, living each day on high alert, and/or self-medicating are enough cause for them to fall behind. Every day at PBMR I have seen elements of this cycle in people’s lives. 

I am reflecting on my life before August and how the time since then has impacted and will continue to impact me going forward. Before graduating last May, I had no image more viscerally compelling to meditate on than the Passion. Now, while I walk the streets of Back of the Yards on my way to PBMR, I feel an intense emotion being evoked.

As I take the bus to my meetings and appointments, or towards my leisure activities and outings, the reality of human suffering is present and inescapable. I realize now my life was sheltered from this pain; my vision—even though imagining the Passion was important—was limited to this far-off concept of despair. Having been drawn near to my heart through my experience, the people of the PBMR community have shown me how I must go forth in spirit to my future.

When I go to the EdLab, our room for tutoring those trying to go back and get their high school diploma, I prepare myself to encounter the students wherever their minds are. Some days I know there is nothing I can do to help someone in or out of the classroom. On others, I feel the slightest gift makes a big difference. The common factor, though, is showing up and accompanying.

When I was told that the core of this program was to walk with those who suffer, I merely drew upon my experience sitting with people in pain. Now, even though I do often sit next to students to tutor, being seated speaks nothing to the difficulty of the walk we take. The walk they must take every day and to which I merely opt-in. 

One student tested my proverbial ability to walk. I often hear incoherent stories of their life and I witness their unstable condition, both physically and mentally. They often challenge my ability to respond with compassion. Accompaniment, I learned, can mean frequent stopping for breaks and reminding someone to take a breather while you keep watch for them. 

One day in the EdLab, I was grading papers and supervising students while they studied. A student was talking to themselves and getting louder. I asked if they were okay which they promptly brushed off. Thankfully, one of the religious sisters had reflected on these situations for years and helped me respond. “Hey, you’re doing some great work today. I can tell you have a lot on your mind, so how about we take a break and get some water? Let me know if you want to talk, okay?”

I learned through moments like this: the little bit of discomfort I would have during an interaction with someone during bouts of schizophrenia could be pivotal to their educational progress and more importantly, demonstrate compassionately how they are a part of our community not to be neglected. 

Vincent checking the quality of a piece in the PBMR wood shop

I want to keep sharing my skills with my community. Someone once said, if you want to change the world, go home and love your family. From there, serve your community, and keep carrying that out across the global community we all share. For now, my roommates and I take care of our home together and share our experiences at PBMR while supporting, reaffirming, and imparting wisdom to each other. I’m grateful to Missionaries of the Precious Blood, who support me during this year of service, the people looking out for me and my fellow volunteers, and the PBMR community, who appreciate the gifts and talents I bring. 

The liberty of our communities at large is bound to the liberty of each community. Wherever I go, no matter what I do, I now know my liberty is bound to my neighbors and we can work together. Marginalized, far-off, and/or rejected, you carry within you the same Precious Blood we all share.

Vincent is serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago, Illinois. Go to preciousbloodvolunteers.org to learn more about Precious Blood Volunteers.