Kenneth Winfield was found dying last Thursday night on the steps of St. John Center for Homeless Men, a day center where he sought warmth and community for the last several years. Help arrived too late on that dangerously cold night and the 49-year-old passed away.
Maria Price, executive director of St. John Center, said in a statement she posted on Facebook that Winfield asked her for help finding permanent housing in November.
He asked her, “Please help me get housing. I don’t want to die out there,” she wrote.
Unfortunately, because of the all-too-scarce supply of affordable housing in this city, Winfield ended up on a waiting list.
Lawmakers must address the problems of poverty in this nation and in Kentucky. The church sees a just system as a moral imperative.
But as the debate swirls on, let us consider our own roles in the system.
As Lent takes hold in these bitterly cold days of winter, it’s time to examine our consciences. We are all responsible, as believers in Christ, for the death of Kenneth Winfield. He was our brother and he needed us.
Where were we? Most of us were at home, tucked into warm beds.
Pope Francis’ Lenten message is a prescription for curing cold and luke-warm hearts — hearts that perhaps are moved by Winfield’s death, but not moved enough to be changed.
“Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold,” the Holy Father’s message says. “As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.
“Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront,” he writes.
The Holy Father offers several tools to help us confront this indifference.
He urges Catholics to receive the Eucharist. He urges us to work as parish communities — to find strength there — to “go out of itself to be engaged in the life of the greater society … especially with the poor and those who are far away.”
He envisions parish communities as “islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”
Pope Francis notes that the flood of bad news from around the world may overwhelm us, that we may ask ourselves, “What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness?”
He has clear answers, though the first two are more familiar than the third. The first is prayer and the second is acts of charity.
Third, he says in his message, “the suffering of others is a call to conversion.”
He explains, the needs of other people are reminders to us all of our dependence upon God.
The Holy Father then tells us, “As a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency, I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. “Deus Caritas Est,” 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others.”
This is a call to action — a call to conversion — directed at each one of us.
Kayla Mueller, the young aid worker who was kidnapped by the so-called Islamic State fighters and killed earlier this month, apparently lived this way.
Her hometown newspaper, The Daily Courier in Prescott, Ariz., wrote a story about Mueller in May 2013, after she returned from Syria where she worked with refugees.
Describing the suffering she saw in Syria, Mueller said, “For as long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. (I will not let this be) something we just accept. It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are. And from that place, start caring and get a lot done.”
We don’t have to go to war zones to live this way. We can start right here in the Archdiocese of Louisville. We can start by praying for guidance and courage, by offering our help to local charities and by allowing the suffering we encounter to change us forever.