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March 2008

“So these are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood. These are the people in your neighborhood. They’re the people who you meet when you’re walking down the street. They’re the people who you meet each day.”

In our home we heard this ditty so very often during the 80’s. It’s from Sesame Street, and you may recall the words. They taught kids about firemen and bakers and all sorts of people. It’s amazing how some things don’t fall prey to senior moments!

I split my time between two neighborhoods. One is where we’ve lived for over 30 years. Elmhurst has everything we need — a fantastic parish, wonderful schools, a well-stocked library, and beautiful parks. The people are friendly; the streets are quiet. It’s a comfortable neighborhood, a great place to raise a family.

My other neighborhood is downtown Chicago. It’s nothing like Elmhurst. All day long and into the evening, the sidewalks are filled will tons of people — accountants and brokers, lawyers and judges, office workers, an occasional celebrity or two. Visitors come from far and wide to shop the Magnificent Mile, visit world-class museums, or catch an opera or play.

There are other people in this neighborhood, but all too often they are ignored. They aren’t seeing the sights or hustling to an appointment. You won’t see them in a fancy restaurant. Mostly they stand in one spot and try to hold it for the entire day. They line the route from the train station to my office. They’re the street guys.

Who are they? Well, Mohammed worked for years at Western Union until his job disappeared. Ron liked being a mechanic. Tyrone is about 40, way too young to be on the street, but he’s attending a Salvation Army school. Herbert sells newspapers a few days a week; he walks with a noticeable limp. David stood on a corner until his murder, quite possibly by his roommate. He gave to the poor. Tommy and John are new guys. Every so often I see Jacqueline sitting on a fireplug. A.C. and Regina are teammates except when A.C. is mad at her. Reggie doesn’t hold a spot; he walks an entire block yelling, “Happy Tuesday!” or whatever it is. My favorite is Poochie, who calls me Brother Paul and keeps a photo of my Marine Corp son. These are the people in my neighborhood.

For years, I didn’t know them or their kind. I would walk right past them, not making eye contact and wishing that they would be gone. But God would have none of that, for like me they are His children. And so He called me to ask each one a simple question: what’s your name? And to a one, each became real to me. I could no longer just walk past them.

We know relatively little about the details of Jesus’ life. The Evangelists were writing for a different purpose. But most assuredly, Jesus didn’t just enter a town, give a sermon, perform a miracle or two, then head out — kinda like if-it’s-Thursday-it-must-be-Caesarea. Certainly He came to know His neighbors by name. They were real people to Him, not figures walking the streets. Knowing them by name allowed His human love grow deeper in ways that manifested intense prayer and astounding works. And it allowed His divine love to propel Him up a hill, where with broken body He crawled onto the Cross that has saved us all.

It can be difficult to focus on the tragedy of abortion because we lose sight of the humanity. The unborn are often termed a “mass of tissue” or relegated to the status of a social issue that strips them of their dignity as humans. But we know different—and better.

We are called to walk with the unborn, and we can do so if they become real to us. Here’s a suggestion: spiritually adopt an unborn child in danger of abortion, and give that child a name. Pick a favorite name, one that you would have used on a child, maybe even one that you did use. Like twins or triplets? Pick ’em and name ’em! They are often the victims of selective reduction, the abortion of “unwanted” children resulting from the use of fertility drugs. While you’re at it, name their parents. Put their names somewhere visible, and pray for them. And at the end of nine months, do it again, and again.

God does not consider any of us as one of the masses—people here to take up space and give Him laughs. He knows and loves each of us, and by name. He challenges us to extend His Love to the weakest among us. He calls us to break down the barrier that separates the blob of tissue, the social issue, from the reality of the unborn. They are the people in our neighborhood — all of ours. If we give them names, we won’t be able to walk past them any more, wishing that they weren’t there. And we may come to do the things that we need to do to protect them.

One day, in a much nicer neighborhood, we may hear “thank you” from neighbors we’ve never met. Chances are, we’ll remember their names.

It has all the makings of one heck of a block party.

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they raise their six kids.

© 2008 Paul V. Esposito. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is freely granted.

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