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The beauty of presence: my M.A.P. experience

By Jessie Bazan, communication junior

During spring break, 183 Marquette students traveled to 19 different sites around the United States as part of Campus Ministry's Marquette Action Program. Junior Jessie Bazan spent the week at the Father McKenna Center in Washington D.C., a daytime drop-in center serving some of the city's homeless men, with 10 fellow classmates. Bazan shares her M.A.P. experience with Marquette Magazine.

Last week, I met a man I'll call Mr. Q. He's a 62-year-old Washingtonian with a grandfatherly smile and a voice perfect for smooth jazz radio. He sleeps in a storage locker at night because wind and snow can't get to him there. Mr. Q is a published poet whose old soul pens profound works about things like love, manhood and angels. He drops by the Fr. McKenna Center so he doesn't start out his day hungry. On Friday, Mr. Q walked up to me and said: "Young lady, I know there's a God. Let me tell you why." Forty-five minutes later, I knew it, too.

I'll admit, I began this M.A.P. journey with many worries. Can I relate to the men? What will we talk about? Is our group even needed here?

I left Saturday morning with resolve. I could relate to the men because I have two arms, a mouth and a brain, just like they do. I have childhood memories, current frustrations and future goals, just like they do. We talked about faith, Big East basketball, Saturday Night Live and whatever else came to mind because we actually have quite a bit in common. We are actually not all that different.

Was our group needed? No. The Fr. McKenna Center has gotten by for 30 years without Marquette spring breakers. But we needed to be there. My 10 new friends and I needed to sleep on hard church pews and not shower daily and wonder how we ever got so lucky. We can't pretend to comprehend the lives of these men after one week. But, now, we can be more aware of their beauty. We can acknowledge their dignity. And we can more genuinely work to better the day-to-day realities of the poor. After all, we have beds to sleep on. Shouldn't everyone?

This M.A.P. trip was about being uncomfortable in order to get comfortable with reality. It was about sharing laughs and breaking biases and shedding invisibility. This week was most simply about being present with fellow human beings who might not look or live like me but are intrinsically the same. Homelessness is a state, not a defining characteristic. The men at the Fr. McKenna Center showed me there is more than one way to define "rich."

"Life-changing" is an overused cliché. But when it's true, it's true. This experience changed my life. For our M.A.P. journey, and for all the wonderful conversations, lessons and memories of this week, I am forever grateful.


Comment by David Gawlik at Mar 20 2013 09:01 am
Your Dad shared your story with me...for your ministry and insight...thank you.

Your reflection is outstanding and an awesome meditation for everyone.

Be well and blessed in your ministry.

Comment by Anastasia at Mar 20 2013 09:27 pm
Thank you for the great reflection! I am glad you had a great time on your trip. This sounds like a great program.
Comment by PF at Mar 20 2013 10:31 pm
Way to go, Jessie. Wonderfully written. Truly from the heart. Thank you for what you give back to Marquette and the community through your reflections on topics of great importance.
Comment by Don Sass at Mar 21 2013 02:31 pm
I've just begun to be acquainted with your Dad.
I KNOW how proud he is of you.
Thank you for this marvelous gift of writing!!!
Comment by Regina Schulte at Mar 21 2013 10:40 pm
I am very inspired by your account of this holy experience. Your gift to the men in Washington evidently returned to you one hundredfold. Thank you.
Comment by Greg Entwhistle at Jun 14 2013 10:08 pm
Today was a beautiful day because it was my return to the McKenna Center after facilitating a similar group of Marquette students in 2005! I wound up at graduate school in Washington DC and decided to go back and volunteer in our community serving and learning from men similar to those who changed my perspective on life, homelessness, and faith 8 years ago.

Service is a way of life, something I tried teaching a Gonzaga high school senior today. To whom much has been given, much is expected in return. I proudly wore the t-shirt I bought 8 years ago with the same Father McKenna quote as the picture at the top of this article.
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