News and Tribune

December 18, 2013

ANDERSON: An agent of change

Local guest columnist

— This weekend on “CBS Sunday Morning,” I listened to the stories and then toward the end I heard the commentator say: “I love this guy, and I’m not even Catholic.”

I have heard that so much over the last few months. People are amazed at the pope and his simple, honest message. They say he is an agent of change and that much will happen because of him. I think so.

Why? Because he is the pope and he has an international stage that allows him to be heard across the world and he speaks the truth. But if you listen carefully, it isn’t so much about the change needed in the world that he speaks but of the change needed within each of us. We must walk the way of Jesus. We must be more tolerant. We must respect life in all forms. We must find our way home.

The first time I listened, I thought how perfectly peaceful his message is and how needed. In a world where everyone wants more, in a world where peace is a dream, in a world where children are dying of starvation even in a land of plenty, in a world where people experience homelessness, illness and crime, all I could think of was how much this man would mean to the church I joined as a young woman.

I look around me and see just how much change is needed even here. Drugs and alcohol prevail yet we are not discussing that on a public basis. We talk of ending homelessness, but to do that we must first deal with the reality of it — low wage jobs and inadequate safe, decent, and affordable housing.

We speak of education while we decimate the public school system. We speak of treating the sick while many have little or no access to health care.

Change will only happen when we make it happen. It comes from a concerted effort on behalf of the greater good. Looking at the broader picture of Indiana as a part of the United States, and the United States as a part of the world, we have to examine if we are doing all we can do to make things better for those who live in our state and our country.

Showing compassion for a homeless tornado victim should be no different than showing compassion for a homeless person living in our own streets. The reasons for the homelessness may be different but the reality of the situation is the same.

When I hear the pope speak of income inequality I understand that the dialogue around poverty will begin seriously as the Catholic Church I joined so many years ago begins to return to the roots that brought me to these doors in the first place.

It makes me believe that Dorothy Day and the hundreds like her will have a place in the church again. There is much rebuilding to be done and much assessment. All of us must look deep within ourselves to see if we have it within ourselves to heed the calls made by Pope Francis.

It will take courage, love and conviction, but we can rebuild, as a community, a church, and a people.

We can welcome people back into the circle of life that a few have enjoyed while many have struggled just to try to get there. We can reach out to those who need our help without judgment and with every resource available.

We must be willing to speak out against social injustice and inequity, and more importantly stand with those who experience it firsthand. When Nancy Giles of “Sunday Morning” cited her respect she was speaking for all of us who grieved the loss of Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, and all the ideals they represented, because many of those are those espoused by the new pope.

She speaks with humor and total admiration, a little quizzical about the man as much as about the mission. “A bouncer’s” meager beginnings. Maybe the question implied is for true humanitarian greatness to occur, must someone suffer like Nelson Mandela to truly become more than what others strive to be?

I don’t know what the answers are; I just know that we have experienced much of that compassion through the JeffCares campaign. The kind of leadership displayed took courage but even more, a commitment to make change happen for the greater good. It is without a doubt a positive approach to a difficult situation.

The kind of leadership spoken of by the pope will be the kind that examines and makes decisions on how to resolve issues and how to grow a spirit of change and good will that is contagious. It is a feeling that is well known at this time of year, but with the guidance of a new emerging leader on the world stage maybe that feeling of responsiveness and strong commitment will be one that grows to last all day, every day.

— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at