Thursday, December 16, 2010

Inside & Out
December Photo Project Day #16

Lansky's on Columbus
Lansky's, on Columbus Ave

The headline "Crime Fighting Priest" caught my attention on today, but it was the location of the story - Youngstown, Ohio - that kept me reading until the end.  Youngstown is where my family comes from - where my mother grew up, where my father went to school.  And from all accounts over the last few years (decades?), it's become a scary place to live.

The article tells of a parish priest who, frustrated by senseless crime in the Youngstown neighborhood surrounding his church, takes to the streets to do something about it.   Currently he is petitioning the city to tear down nearby abandoned properties - vacant houses that have been used by criminals, abused by arsonists, and generally contribute to the unsafe climate and impoverished atmosphere of the neighborhood. 

What I found most interesting about this article, and about this crime-fighting priest, is that apparently urban flight, unemployment, poverty and crime aren't the biggest challenges that Father Maturi is facing:

"Surprisingly, with crime and murder happening right outside his front door, Maturi says battling the hopelessness among his parishioners and the community is his toughest fight yet.
'My biggest problem is not fear of being attacked by gangs or whatever. My biggest problem is keeping people from falling into despair and becoming cynical,' he said. 'That is a tougher fight than a physical fight.'
By putting such a public face on a dangerous battle, some now fear Maturi has also put a target on himself. But almost like a superhero in the comic book, Maturi quickly responds, 'That may well be the case, but that's not going to slow me down...This is why I became a priest. This is what a priest does.'"

I love Father Maturi's holistic approach: while working to have the city tear down physical walls on vacated lots, he's also working on tearing down the metaphorical ones in his parishioners' hearts.  I think the church has often failed to strike this balance in the past, instead swinging too far towards one extreme - addressing either this world or the world to come, focusing on either social justice or spiritual revival.

But what good is fixing the outside if the inside remains broken, and vice versa? Rather than an either/or approach, physical and spiritual needs should be given equal weight and addressed together.  After all, there's often an important interplay between the two.

In Youngstown, perhaps Father Maturi's outward actions in bravely tackling crime will foster inward responses amongst his parishioners, melting cynicism and giving them reason to believe things could be different.

I don't know.  But I hope for them.

For me, too.

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