Winnipeg native Abby Pyrz, right, met with many homeless people during her two years serving at Christ in the City in Denver. Photo courtesy of Joe Lugue

Travel gap year leads to serving the homeless

By  Janelle Lafantaisie, Youth Speak News
  • September 5, 2018

Abby Pyrz was 18 years old when she was bitten by the travel bug. 

She spent most of her youth in Winnipeg being homeschooled and working as a barista at Starbucks, so when she graduated high school in November 2015, she decided to see the world. 

“I knew I wanted to travel and I think it was an 18-year-old, middle-child syndrome itch of I just want to go and do my own thing and be independent,” said the now 21-year-old.

Pyrz’s journey brought her to many places like New Zealand, Australia, India and then, unexpectedly, to Denver. It was there that what began as an attempt to see the world became a life-changing pilgrimage to understand her mission in the world. 

In the Colorado city lies a hidden gem known as Christ in the City. This ministry is a Catholic non-profit organization with a mission to form young Catholics to go out and be missionaries to the world. Young adults develop their skills over one or two years by serving the homeless, living in community and learning how to grow deeper in their spiritual life. 

“(Travelling) was beautiful in the sense that I got to see the beauty of these places,” Pyrz said. “But that was definitely a point in my faith life where I went to Mass on Sundays and definitely missed a couple because I knew it was this rule … but I wasn’t convinced that church was what I wanted to do or where I needed to be.”

During her travels, she realized she craved more spiritual formation and, for her, that meant spending a year in service. After looking at different options for service and ministry, Christ in the City stuck out because it worked both as a ministry to the homeless and as a formational program for young adults. 

For two years, Pyrz spent Monday to Friday on a very structured schedule. She learned how to deal with difficult hospital visits, seizures, convulsions, blood gushing, street violence, meth withdrawals and so much more. 

Every day, she and her fellow missionaries were also required to live in community, participate in Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass and a Holy Hour of Adoration.

“There’s anywhere from 20-25 men and women living in a house together so problems and conflicts do arise,” she said. “Learning (how to deal with those conflicts) without a facilitator present is important because you know you have to wake up the next morning and walk the streets with them or sit beside them during morning prayer.”

One of Pyrz’s favourite stories of making a friend on the street is through her encounter with Deb, a struggling alcoholic and homeless woman who Pyrz came to befriend through their shared sense of wit and sass. 

One morning, Pyrz and her fellow missionaries met with Deb for coffee. Deb told them she hadn’t drank that morning because she wanted to be her utmost self when she came to meet them, but this meant that she became shaky due to the withdrawal. 

“There comes a point where your friend is struggling, typically with substance abuse or mental illness and you help them deal with a situation and afterward, you sit there and cry for about an hour or two,” she said. “You realize how much you care for this person and how helpless you feel and how not in control you are.”

But Pyrz said it was also part of the training to mimic the behaviours of John and Mary at the foot of the cross. 

After finishing her mission this summer, Pyrz plans to go back home to Winnipeg to pursue a degree in social work at the University of Manitoba.

(Lafantaisie, 24, is a photographer for Alice and Flore Photography in Winnipeg, Man.)

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