Interdependence with the poor

It would be a safe bet that readers of this column, regardless of their “positions” on religion, will agree that the advance of our Lord’s Kingdom in some way depends on our interaction with the world’s poor.( Poverty here refers, of course, not just to material but also to the spiritual deprivation that cripples human dignity).

The advance of the Kingdom, one discovers, both leads to and results from our interdependence with the poor. Bluntly put, for a fuller life we need them as much as they need us.

They would agree on this for reasons that go beyond the riveting message of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25, that what we do for the least of these we do for him. And, those familiar with the Church’s injunction about the preferential option for the poor would concur that there is something more than one-way charity at work here.

There is an undeniable reality so often articulated by volunteers: “I receive so much more than what I give.” Interaction with the poor enriches the giver as much as the receiver.

The advance of the Kingdom, one discovers, both leads to and results from our interdependence with the poor. Bluntly put, for a fuller life we need them as much as they need us.

Readers would also agree that our growing awareness of the role and power of this interdependence enhances our understanding of the indispensable, indeed inevitable, necessity of inter-religious and inter-denominational collaboration.

In the City of Brotherly Love there is a sterling example of an interfaith community addressing the needs of the poor and, in the process, discovering the interdependence among those who need help and those who provide it.

Inspired and guided by Father Dominic Rossi, a Norbertine, the Bethesda Project ( began 30 years ago as a response of the Body of Christ Prayer Group at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania, to a request from the Sisters of Mercy to adopt a group of homeless women with mental illness. The first facility was a rented apartment over a pub in Center City, Philadelphia.

Today, this organization – on whose services the City of Philadelphia extensively relies – provides emergency shelter, housing and supportive services at 16 locations and serves over 7,000 homeless men and women each year. Its ministry – “to find and care for the abandoned poor” and “to be family with those who have none” – is the fruit of an edifying collaboration among staff, countless volunteers, donors, and fifty faith communities of varying faiths.

Especially impressive are Our Brothers’ Place and its satellite shelters which provide shelter, sanitation, nourishment and – important – hope for hundreds of transient men each day. The Bethesda Project also endeavors to offer these men and women who live “on the margin of a complex society” with skills training so that they might make the transition from homelessness to independence and stability.

It is remarkable how the inspiration of one individual has attracted the support and commitment of so many from so many backgrounds for so long from when the matter at hand has been the promotion of human dignity. Not surprisingly, as the Bethesda Project’s website states, the countless individuals who support its programs discover “relationship is reciprocal and healing for all involved”.

‘Bethesda’ is Hebrew for ‘house of mercy’. Could it be that in the advance of the Kingdom the interdependence with the poor is itself a gift of mercy?

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  1. Dear Dana,

    Thanks for an inspiring article. You are so right. Our firm is presently serving a number of ministries (St. John’s Hospice, Cranaleith Spiritual Center, St. Vincent Homes, to name a few) where we see and hear firsthand how the lives of the volunteers are enriched by thier interdependence with those they serve.

    We try to take it one step further to empower the poor and disenfranchised by offering them the opportunity to ‘give back’ through the annual appeal. The poor, who receive from these programs, must also find strength and dignity in being able to give back. We must stop making the decision for them that they cannot afford it – and let them decide. This is truly interdependence.

    Blessings, and best personal wishes.


  2. Dear Dana,

    Thank you so much for this lovely reflection on the work of Bethesda Project. You so rightly “get” that, as we seek to be in community with the poor, we all become both givers and receivers.

    With appreciation and warm regards,

    Nancy Green, Bethesda Project

  3. I am very much reminded to the Benedic quote which says something like ‘may the poor forgive you the charity you give them.’ I very much like the interdependency focus of this article. As I have studied to learn about my own racist attitudes I have learned that I do not like being disenfranchised. Currently I am ministering in transitional housing for homeless women in the Seattle area. Yes, I learn from them each and every day! Thank you…

  4. Wonderful reflection, Dana. Thank you. The interdependance you speak of goes far beyond volunteers and those served but to those employed in serving the poor, too.

    I am blessed to introduce to our many lunch volunteers why it is that serve–we come face to face with a real presence of Jesus in our midst. It is so gratifying when a teenager reports after a meal that he met Jesus today.

    You capture the essence of Bethesda project well. They are an inspiration to all of us also working in the vineyard.

    Gerry Huot, Saint John’s Hospice (Philadelphia)

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