By Stephanie Kornexl
Like old friends, the Casa Latina Catholic Worker and CrossRoads Ministry have mingled over Thursday evening potluck meals for more than a decade. The relationship between these two groups goes back so far, no one can seem to pinpoint when it all began.
Alex Flood, the retreat director at CrossRoads Ministry, recently sat down to an interview to share more about its connection to Casa Latina and talk about the work that Crossroads does with young people interested in taking part in an immersive inner-city retreat.
CrossRoads, an outreach of St. William Catholic Church, has a retreat house located on West Oak Street, which hosts up to 2,000 retreatants each year.
For those unfamiliar with CrossRoads Ministry, can you explain what you do?
“We’re a retreat ministry first and foremost, and we’re countercultural in that our mission is not based in direct service. Rather, we focus on building relationships; that’s at the core of what we do.
“We spend our time at non-profits and social service agencies, forming friendships with the people we meet. We believe that by getting to know someone — by entering a relationship, by learning someone’s story — we can break down the barriers that society has put up.
“We do that by spending time wth people who are marginalized and stereotyped. That includes immigrants, refugees, people of color, people with developmental disabilities, people living in poverty and/or homelessness, people experiencing addiction, and anyone else who’s been boxed up by stereotypes.
“Jesus made a conscious effort to spend time with all of the people society said were different, or ‘less than:’ the outcasts, lepers, women, non-Jews, tax collectors, extremely poor. Over and over again he sought out the company of those whom society had labeled and pushed to the side, and he made a conscious effort to enter into relationship with them. I think that’s one of the guideposts by which we choose where we go and who we’re with.
“We operate with a ‘people first’ philosophy, recognizing that all people are human beings first — people that transcend the labels and categories imposed upon them. All people possess inherent dignity and worth. This is the message Jesus communicated and lived by, and it’s the message we hope young people will learn to live by after CrossRoads.
Who typically attends a CrossRoads retreat?
“The majority of people who come on retreats are high school students from the Louisville area. “We work with nearly every Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Louisville. We also work with younger folks. In the last 4-5 years we started doing Confirmation retreats for young people, predominantly 8th graders, from parishes within the archdiocese and beyond.
“CrossRoads’ community also extends beyond the boundaries of our city. In our 17 years, we’ve been able to form partnerships across the region. We work with colleges and universities, such as John Carroll University, Marquette University, Loyola of Chicago, and Washington University in St. Louis. We also host high school students from Cleveland, Nashville, Milwaukee … and other areas.
“CrossRoads welcomes all young people from confirmation age to college age, from far and wide, to attend one of our justice-based urban retreat experiences.
What’s a typical experience look like for a student on retreat?
“We offer retreats ranging from 6 hours to 8 days. Regardless of the length of the retreat, they all have the same sort of flow in that we start our days with intentionality and prayer. We think about where we’re coming from, where we’re going, and what we’re looking for. Then we spend the bulk of our time interacting with folks at social service agencies. We might go to a community center like Park Hill Community Center down the street or the Kling Center, or St. Vincent DePaul soup kitchen where we sit down to eat with guests. We just spend all of our time with people in an attempt to enter into relationship. And then we end our days here [at the CrossRoads retreat center] with a closing discussion, processing, prayer, and ritual. One of our most popular retreats is Follow Me, an overnight 2-day retreat. It’s an intense and immersive retreat. We go to 4 different agencies in about 30 hours. Our week-long retreat, CrossWalk, is even more intensive. We’ll have a group of people who spend every day at the same agency so that they can begin to form more personal, authentic relationships with the people they meet. So, we offer ways to delve into relationships in different ways, but all CrossRoads retreats have the same rhythm and focus.
What kind of impact or impression do the retreats leave on the students who attend?
“As a former retreatant, I’ll first speak for myself. When I was on a retreat as a 16-year-old I met one young person who really stuck with me. His name was [James] and he was the son of a single mother living in St. Vincent DePaul’s temporary housing. He had severe learning disabilities and had an infant baby sister. I think he was 3 or 4 when I met him. We played and did silly stuff together. At the time it resonated with me as ‘here’s a kid in a bad situation and I’m a kid in a good situation’ but it was one of those things that continued to work on me after that week. I’m sure that whoever was facilitating the retreat wondered if I got anything out of it because I never said anything profound in the chapel. But what I do know is that as I got older and learned about my own privilege; I started thinking about ideas like the birth lottery and [became aware] that the way that I live my life, the way that I spend money, the way that I voted, how I pray, and the way that I spent my time directly affected people like James and people in his situation. And so, he went on to inform me in ways that were not really evident on the surface in that particular week.
“Our hope is that not only do the kids recognize their oneness with someone who is struggling with addiction or experiencing homelessness, but also realize the ways in which they can devote their life to helping people.
What is the CrossRoads connection with Casa Latina Catholic Worker?
For the last couple of years our main time spent at Casa Latina has been on our weeklong CrossWalk retreats. We go on Thursday nights for community supper, which is night four of seven after the students have spent three full days out at their agencies. On their retreats kids start to ask a lot of questions about [where they can begin to get involved]. Going to La Casa gives them a scope to see a group of people who also care about [living Gospel values], who have made their life about solidarity and Christian hospitality, and the kids are inspired because they know that this experience isn’t something that has to end. For the most part, kids who choose to come on our weeklong retreat have an understanding of who Dorothy Day is, and if they don’t [the Catholic Worker community will] make sure they do. To see a Catholic Worker in action and to hear about the way it’s addressing a community’s needs really inspires young people.
At the end of retreat, we perform a closing ritual during which we ask ‘who’s the person who’s beginning to work on you?’ Often, it’s folks they met at dinner at La Casa who are doing really cool stuff with their lives. Young people are then inspired and know that’s something they can do with their lives, too.
I love being able to take groups to La Casa for community dinners. With what is going on in our country and with the normalization of fear and hatred toward people with different skin tones and people from Central and South America, it feels even more important. The people who come to us on retreat are often young people of privilege, most of whom are white. To give them the opportunity to learn about Latinos and immigrants in a way that’s different from what they read in books or see on television or hear from politicians is really important. So, I am grateful that we get to have that connection.
What’s on the horizon for CrossRoads?
Just in the last couple of weeks I have been talking with Karina [Barillas, Executive Director of La Casita Center] and have set up several retreat visits to La Casita for the upcoming school year. On Tuesdays when La Casita has Pre-K childcare/development we’re going to have groups of students there most days throughout the school year, which I think is really exciting.
Anything else you’d like to share?
We’re hiring! We’re looking for two people to start in September as retreat associates; a retreat associate is basically someone who helps lead retreats. We’re looking for one person to do a year of service (with a stipend) and we’re looking for a full-time salaried person.
Also, we just started a new retreat called All One. It’s a partnership with Plowshares Farm and Education Center. We spend a couple days examining our connectedness with other people and different cultures. And then spend a couple days examining our connectedness with the Earth and the food that we eat. Then we spend a day out at Abbey of Gethsemani or The Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse in solitude examining our connection to the Divine. Our next All One retreat will be during spring break 2018, and registration will be open shortly before that.”