Joe's Reflection on the The Joy J Experience
Change is often a difficult
thing. As much as we may say we like change, we like to do something different, we like to start over on a new endeavor,
the fact remains that, for most people, change brings an uncomfortable feeling to our hearts, and a big lump to our throats.
But we know that change often leads to new life and new opportunities for growth. An exciting example of the transition we are talking about can be see in our newest endeavor-
the JoyJ Initiative.
in the winter, I was approached by a group of parishioners from Blessed Sacrament Church on West 71st Street.
At a meeting in my office, several members of this group spoke with much excitement and enthusiasm about a new outreach ministry
to the homeless that they had started in their own parish. They called it the JoyJ Initiative. Their idea was
simple- that showing others the love of Christ would bring joy to the hearts of the homeless and the needy- but also great
joy to our own hearts as we encountered in a special way those that society had passed by.
February 9 and 10, one of their group, Louise Ulman, spoke passionately about the JoyJ Initiative at all our parish Masses,
and of the desire to bring that ministry to Saint Anthony’s. The proposal was simple-each person could find in
their own busy schedule some time to reach out to others by preparing “Comfort Bags” to be distributed on the
street. And these would be the means by which we could encounter the poor Christ who did not have a place in which to
lay his head.
The response was, to say the least, tremendous. Over fifty people signed
up immediately for the establishment of a JoyJ Chapter at St. Anthony’s, and many others donated to the project.
As weeks went on, the enthusiasm grew. We had several organizational meetings, and what emerged was a new generation
of parishioners getting involved in our parish.
Finally, after much discussion,
deliberation, preparing, shopping, planning, the JoyJ Initiative here at St. Anthony’s was born.
On Thursday, May 1, a group of about twelve met at St. Anthony’s Friary to assemble the
“Comfort Bags” that would be distributed on the street. Each bag included street sheets- information on
how to get assistance for food, shelter, medical assistance, legal help, etc. in Manhattan. Also placed in the Comfort
Bags were ponchos, socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, liquid soap, bottled water, cookies, granola bars, a fresh sandwich
(which would be delivered the day of the distribution), and other essential items. Also, 60 McDonald Arch cards worth
$10.00 each would be given out.
On Saturday, May 3, sixteen members of
Saint Anthony’s, assisted by some of the veterans from Blessed Sacrament Church, assembled for last minute instructions.
The excitement was unbelievable. The joy was tremendous. Each volunteer realized that, not only would they be
assisting those most in need, but that they would also have an opportunity to see face to face (and hopefully speak to) those
people who have been cast aside in our city. Even in such a wealthy neighborhood as Soho- where the rich and the famous
not only shop but live- the face of the poor Christ is clearly evident.
Each was given some
bags, along with a bright green scarf for identity, and business cards. We met at the front steps of the church for
a prayer, and, after taking some photos, were off to the races. Some went north, south, east, and west. Concentration
would be on places where the homeless assemble- such as Washington Square Park, just three streets north of the church.
As word came back of the experiences, it became obvious that what we had set out to do was accomplished
beyond our wildest expectations. Parishioners spoke of special encounters they had with the people on the street.
One of our parishioners, Leila Araiche, wrote: “The experience was incredible. I’m not going to say it was easy for me to walk up to someone
I don’t know and engage in conversation but when I did it, it was very rewarding. We were actually concerned about identifying
the right people and didn’t want to insult anyone by giving them a bag when they weren’t really homeless…
We also struggled with the right opening line. They didn’t know what we were saying when we told them we were part of
the JoyJ initiative so we said we were from the church – or we just asked if they were hungry. There were a few people
who wanted just the sandwich or socks (socks were a big hit!) and the McDonald gift cards were really great (I still have
a few I’m giving out throughout the week). My favorite person was Anthony who I found Sunday morning – he
said he did odd jobs but didn’t have luck in getting work – he was so appreciative for the bag and the conversation,
he cried a bit and gave me a hug. My daughter Danielle and her friend (ages 15) also found it incredibly rewarding.”
She continued, “I’m looking forward to next steps. There are a lot
of people at the church who came up to me on Sunday and apologized for missing it but committed to doing it with us next time.
I think we could do double the bags….Thank you so much for bring this to us. I’ve been searching for something
like this for years and it feels great to be a part of it.”
Brian Kelly, the parish
chair of JoyJ St. Anthony, wrote, “For me, the best thing about this experience was the refreshing change in perspective.
Like a lot of New Yorkers, I often unconsciously ignore anything or anyone that isn't a part of what I'm doing, which of course
is very dehumanizing. The actual giving part of this activity was amazing, whether it was the three guys in Chinatown who
acted like they won the lottery or the guy in the subway station who was asleep and looked like he really needed the bag.
I'll remember those, but more importantly, just learning about these guys and their lives directly from them helped me to
see outside of that NY shell of efficiency. Now the real challenge is maintaining that perspective. “
For me as pastor, it was an uplifting experience. And it showed what we are capable of doing
in the future. Who knows where all of this will lead? Certainly, the enthusiasm this has generated hasn’t
been seen in a long time. My personal thanks goes out to all who participated and assisted us in any way. And
certainly, above all, we thank God for giving us the grace and strength to bring His name to others.
A family pastoral
program to help the neediest
Frequently Asked Questions (F. A. Q.)
is the JoyJ Initiative about?
JoyJ helps to find the joy of being Christian by following Jesus’ Commandment:
you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in His
love. I have told you this so that
my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete. This
is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you.” - John:15
We work together to discover the inner
joy of loving one another as brothers and sisters being just one big family in the eyes of the Lord.
JoyJ, we share ideas, organize actions, and connect to carry on our work as followers of Jesus.
On our website www.joyj.org
you can be find information on our activities and how to participate. You can be inspired by reading other people’s
experiences, by asking questions on topics of interest, and by sharing your own experiences and spiritual life.
Is this website only for Catholics or for every Christian?
You don’t have to be Catholic to
participate. The program is open to all Christians, members of any Church, and whoever wants to be part of a Christian support
group to live more fully the Gospel of our Lord. However, we are a pastoral family program of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament
in New York City and we adhere to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.
How I can
Please explore our website www.joyj.org and be part of our community.
Go to the WHAT YOU CAN DO page and see the
simple steps we follow for our activities. Often we suggest the activities of the week or the month and you can participate
or get ideas from them and plan your own activities.
Go to the READ page and read real life stories.
You will be touched by the love, the strength, and how important Jesus is for people just like you.
Go to the WRITE page where you can share your story (you don’t need to give personal information) on the website. It can be
a small Christian act that you do or a narrative of an important part of your life, or anything that you would like to share.
to the ASK page and ask questions on topics of interest to you about Christian life and
other matters important to you. You can also propose activities, initiatives and other ideas to the group.
to the OTHER page and find useful links, additional activities (charitable associations,
support groups, cultural programs, etc.)
Who can contribute stories and ideas?
Everyone can share
a story, an experience, make comments, and suggest activities. We will publish all the stories after we make sure that the
content is appropriate for the website. Parents are also welcome to contribute stories from their children. You don’t
need to give personal data. We only want to share the stories and your ideas not your personal information.
Can I write to you in Spanish?
Yes. You can write in English, Spanish, or Italian. We will expand to more languages
in the future.
Are there any events/meetings around this initiative?
You can actively participate
as a member of our team. Regardless of national origin, language, or ethnic background, you are welcome to be part of our
organization. We meet weekly at the Rectory of the Blessed Sacrament Church in New York City. Please send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be included in our mailing list with the calendar of the activities
How can I contact you?
Shrine Church of Saint Anthony of Padua
154 Sullivan Street
York NY 10012