Arts and Culture

Responding in Love to The Needs of Others

by Father Robert Lauder

I don’t know how many times during the summer that someone said to me: “The world is in a mess.”

I knew immediately what the speaker meant. Often reading the first page of a newspaper can be depressing. There are stories about wars, crimes and large groups of people living in impossible conditions. Some of my friends and I have discussed how these stories influence people’s outlook on the world and how stories about people performing good actions might change our views of the world. Good actions don’t usually get much attention in the media.

Adventure in Grace

I deeply believe that every person’s life, whether the person believes it or not, is an adventure in grace. The Holy Spirit is present to everyone, and people all over the world are responding to that presence of Love. One reason that Frank Capra’s masterpiece “It’s A Wonderful Life” is such a popular film is that people either do believe – or at least want to believe – that every person can be a positive influence in the lives of others.

Occasionally we hear about someone who is making a positive contribution to improve the lives of others. Jim Ziolkowski is such a person. He is the author, along with James S. Hirsch, of the book “Walk in Their Shoes: Can One Person Change the World?” (New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2013, pp. 244, $16).

He is speaking at St. John’s University on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 4:30 p.m. in Marillac Hall Auditorium on the Jamaica campus. A book signing will follow.

Friends have told me that Ziolkowski is a terrific public speaker. I am guessing that he is the type of speaker who could have a very positive impact on the St. John’s students as they try to figure out what they want to do with their lives after graduation.

However, his talk should appeal not only to college students but to anyone who is interested in learning what can be done to make the world a better place.

Building a Better World

Ziolkowski’s story is inspiring. Twenty-two years ago, he was on the fast track in corporate finance. It looked as though, in terms of acquiring material possessions, he would be very successful. He could have had the type of life that many college students dream about and hope to achieve. Instead of focusing on his own financial success, he left his career in corporate finance and dedicated his life to an organization he created entitled buildOn, which helps inner-city teenagers become leaders both at home and abroad.

The following is written on the back cover of “Walk in Their Shoes” about Ziolkowski and his organization:

“He set out to show not that he could change the world, but that each one of us can. Today, buildOn students have transformed communities from Detroit and the South Bronx to Haiti, Mali, and Nepal, with nearly 1.5 million hours of service and the construction of more than six hundred schools throughout the world. Walk in Their Shoes is the unforgettable story of Jim’s movement and of the thousands of young people who have stepped forward, stepped up, and made a difference.”

In the opening pages of his book, Ziolkowski reports that after he graduated from college, he visited developing countries and was almost overwhelmed by the poverty he saw. My guess is that this is the experience of almost everyone who visits India, Thailand and Nepal, but Ziolkowski wanted to do something about the almost incredible poverty that he encountered. He came to see that education was one of the key ways that the poor in developing countries might be helped. His experience of poverty in the Third World made him more sensitive to poverty in our country. The problems in our inner cities can seem intimidating. Ziolkowski believed deeply that the kids themselves wanted to make the world better.

Through his organization buildOn, Ziolkowski got teenagers in our country to work in senior centers, to clean up parks and abandoned lots and even to work in food pantries on which some of their families depended. What I find most amazing is that through buildOn, Ziolkowski got some teenagers from our inner cities to spend time in developing countries building schools. Was he successful? More than 600 schools have been built throughout the world through buildOn.

A Life Dedicated to Others

St. John’s University encouraged incoming first-year students to read “Walk in Their Shoes” during the summer. I am requiring an essay on the book from every student in one of my philosophy classes. What better way to reflect on the mystery of life than reading about a life dedicated to helping others?

I am hoping that there will be an overflow crowd at Ziolkowski’s talk.[hr]

Editor’s Note: To register for Ziolkowski’s talk or for more information, contact Mary Pelkowski at 718-990-2000 ext. 1420 or, or call the Vincentian Center at ext. 1612.

To purchase Ziolkowksi’s book, visit[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.

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One thought on “Responding in Love to The Needs of Others

  1. Good recap Father Lauder of what will take place and the goodness of the book, and its author in what he has done with his life. And yes, despite the mess that oftentimes we appear to be in, there is a ray of hope amongst us all. I keep thinking of a book I envision someday, called “Is there room at the table?” And yes, there is and can be room, if we make it possible. Just as you make it possible for your students to learn the way they do from you, we can al make that effort possible. All the best for your great work as a teacher, author and special priest for us all!