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Wednesday August 05, 2015

 

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Written by Father John Walsh for VMO
Wednesday July 22nd, 2015

There are axial moments in the life of a community and these are the moments that determine a future that reverses the past. We are living a moment of overturning what was and will no longer be a possibility. The opening of Anne’s House for thirty women who otherwise would be homeless is revolutionary. The assumptions of the past about the homeless are being totally transformed and women are the cause of such change. 

A patriarchal and paternalistic culture that was male dominated can no longer survive in the twenty-first century. Women are equal to every other human being, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. There are three fundamental changes that have brought about such a dramatic and irreversible change to our world and to our city. 

The first is the recognition of the equality of females and males, women and men, which was brought about when women liberated women, and in doing so, liberated everyone enabling women and men to create a new culture and a new society. Women transformed the world. 

The second change was brought about because women dared to question the underlying assumptions upon which society had relegated women to a secondary level of humanity. Imagine for a moment how a twelfth-century religious reformer could not only think but write: “I speak to you, o charmers of the clergy, appetizing flesh of the devil, that castaway from paradise, you, poison of the minds, death of souls, venom of wine and of eating … bitches, sows, screech-owls, night owls, she wolves, blood suckers … come now, hear me, harlot, prostitutes, with you lascivious kisses, you wallowing places for fat pigs ….” 

Enough said! Disparaging comments by men, even into the twentieth century, made women inferior to men on all counts.

The third change was affected when society matured to the point that gender and sex differences were discarded. The change redefined intimacy. 

Nazareth House has been around for fifty years and it is a home for twenty-two men who otherwise would be homeless. Two years ago the members of the board of directors were sharing a meal when a dream was created by an off-handed comment: “Why don’t we think of a home for women?” 

At that time it was not possible to envisage a home for women but with all the blood, sweat, and tears required the dream has been realized. 

Three elements began to factor into the success of the adventure. Planning, persistence and prayer.

At the beginning the plan was simple; line up all the ducks and everything will fall into place. It took no time at all to realize that there always has to be a plan B. At every twist and turn on architectural drawings plan B became the most successful of all plans.

Persistence led from confrontations to conversations and the eventual outcome far exceeded the original expectations. Prayers were not traditional formulae or formal prayers but there was no better prayer than the deepest concern for 30 women to have a home that became buried in the hearts and minds of everyone working to welcome those women into Anne’s House.

The world looks differently from the window of a home that looks down onto the street rather than being on the street looking into the windows of so many homes and wondering why the street was where you lived. Homelessness bears the stigma that those who are homeless are on the street because of their own lack of ambition. Is this not the competitive characteristic of the male psyche? Men who are not working are stigmatized as slovenly, lazy, parasites. They are the welfare bums. 

Women are on the street for totally different reasons than men. They question society in ways that men have not been able to in the past. Men were taken care of by the “system;” women by their nature are caretakers and now the system must change. 

The assumptions upon which we have built our society are challenged when homeless women are seen on the streets. Women succeeded in India with micro-financing when men had failed. Women offer society, as a whole, what has been lacking: respect for the dignity of each human being.

Hope is renewed when women are respected and given a home in which they will flourish. Women are speaking directly to those who see the world as a place of doom and gloom: what a wonderful world. 

Father John Walsh is Honorary President of the Board of Communauté Nazareth Community Inc., which comprises the Board of Nazareth House and Anne’s House.

 

 

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