The City of Brotherly Love confronts negative headlines from every crevice of every neighborhood with a love fitting of its civic name. Born-and-raised Philadelphians manifest the pride they have for their city in how quickly and enthusiastically they invite newcomers into their culture: the phrase “jawn”, the Eagles Fight Song, and the mystery that is “scrapple” have been kindly (and patiently) explained to me. I have had the privilege of enjoying the fierce, familial way that Philadelphians look after their own, such as when one of my coworkers, who was aware of the budget that my community operates within, shared with me several of her recipes for inexpensive meals. Later that day, she brought me a warmed container of her homemade pasta e fagioli and insisted that I enjoy the meal while she covered my post in the Pre-K 3 classroom. Philadelphia is a full-bodied community in its awareness and regard for the people living here, across the districts.
Our own Philadelphia community (or the “Philly Pham”, as we refer to ourselves) recently joined our incredible staff and alumni in welcoming home the most recent Augustinian Volunteer group from Chulucanas, Peru. To congratulate them and celebrate in their service, we joined together in our living room to observe the Mass of Our Lord. The greater significance of what this moment represented was not lost on us as one after another, communion was distributed about the circle. As Augustinians, we share in community. But as Augustinian Volunteers, we share of the same cup. Present that night were volunteers who had served in Peru, California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, with stories from their terms as diverse as the locations themselves. Although our experiences have varied from each site, my impressions on what a community can be have been transformed through the devotion of this organization’s members to living with one heart and mind intent upon God. Regardless of where any one of us are within our present walks in faith and beyond, those journeys are that which we share in. We are united in common desires, motivations, and in the common knowledge that not any of us could persist along the paths that we are on without the support we receive from our brothers and sisters.
One of my fellow volunteers recently asked us to call to mind individual “I believe” statements. After reflecting upon this, I can stand firm in these things:
I believe that there is a thin, almost translucent veil between the divine and the sidewalks of inner Philadelphia.
I also believe that there is a community amongst the Augustinian Volunteers, both presently serving and those wonderful alumni of ours, unlike any group that I have been involved with or been fortunate enough bear witness to until now.
And as of late, I have arrived at the belief that there is less of a difference between the city that I now consider my home and the volunteer organization that brought me here.
Philadelphia, PA 2017-2018