Student honored for fight against poverty

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By John Foster

As a student at Oldham County High School, David Golemboski began to seriously consider his Catholic faith and think about it as more than a set of beliefs.

Through the guidance of individuals in his church and reading the work of Thomas Merton, Golemboski realized he was a "guilty bystander."

"As long as you're a bystander, in some way you're a guilty bystander," Golemboski said.

Now, this suburban 22-year-old from Buckner is being honored on the national level for making the decision to be involved - spreading understanding and compassion for the inner-city poor - instead of standing by.

In November, Golemboski was awarded the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The award honors Catholics ages 18-30, who demonstrate leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States through community-based solutions.

In giving the award John Carr, interim director of the CCHD said, "David has helped other youth to open their eyes and hearts to the poor. He has led them to prayerfully explore their own reactions to poverty, question societal structures that cause it and work for justice at home and abroad."

Golemboski was honored primarily for his leadership in two initiatives during the time he attended the University of Louisville - JusticeWalking and CrossRoads retreats. Both expose Catholic high school students, mostly from the suburbs, to the people who exist on the margins of society.

JusticeWalking is a year-long program, while the CrossRoads retreats are two to five days, but both have the same objective - for students to consider the implications of their Catholic faith.

Students spend time in the west end of Louisville, an area most are unfamiliar with, and they visit social service agencies striving to meet the needs of the poor.

Golemboski said he wants students to bring into focus people who may be homeless, disabled or struggling to provide for their families - people who often exist only in peripheral vision. That change of focus will hopefully change the way they live, he said.

"If we believe in this commandment that says love your neighbor, is it really right to go about our lives as if the west end didn't exist?" Golemboski said.

Much of the time in the program is reflecting on how someone of faith should react to the realities of pain in our city and our world.

"If you call yourself a Catholic or a Christian, how does that play out in the life of a high school student in Louisville, Ky. in 2007?"

After a retreat, students often come away with the decision to get involved in a social service agency and to form relationships with the poor - meeting not only physical needs of food and shelter but emotional needs of community.

Students zero-in on those things that are degrading or distracting in their own lives, such as a lust for more material possessions or an attitude of stepping on other people to get where they want to go.

For Golemboski, a reaction to the reality of a world where thousands die daily from hunger, is to sometimes eat more simply - maybe skip a dessert, or to walk somewhere instead of using the luxury of a car.

He said the big answers are to look at time and money and see if they are being spent only on himself, or on making his community and world a more just place.

"It can be easy to live as if my life is the center of the universe but let's look at the big picture..." he said.

He said he does not have all the political and economic solutions to fix a world where millions die of genocide and even more to hunger, but he does know how to make a difference in the lives of individuals. And sometimes that is what it takes - not to look at people as demographic, but with compassion as other humans made by God.

"Just as I wouldn't want my friend to starve, I wouldn't want another human being to starve," he said.

Father John Burke is sacramental moderator of St. William parish in west Louisville where the CrossRoads retreats are held . He said in his nomination, "David has left an indelible mark on the lives of many high school teens and their families as well as on the inner city community of St. William. He is a young man of deep spiritual insight, uncommon dedication and compassion."

Father Jeff Nicolas, pastor of Church of the Epiphany in Prospect, describes Golemboski as articulate, thoughtful and effective in communicating about complex and potentially polarizing issues.

In the fall, Golemboski started work on a master's degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School with a focus on religion, ethics and politics. He is scheduled to graduate in June 2009.

E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com.