She’s a first responder in the church’s effort to become a field hospital for the world. And Sam Henry, 22, thought she had in hand what homeless people need: snacks, a hygiene kit, advice on housing and suggestions on addiction treatment.

But this fall, a homeless man living near St. Francis Parish in inner Southeast Portland asked her simply to pray with him.

The moment sparked a paradigm shift for Henry, a Jesuit Volunteer serving with Catholic Charities of Oregon in the Housing Transitions Program.

When the man heard Henry was from Catholic Charities, he said he was struggling with addiction and wanted God’s guidance.

“It reminds me to go into all these interactions with an open mind and to be ready to offer what people need,” said Henry, who graduated with a communications degree from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “It’s about listening.”

Henry makes regular trips to sites where homeless Portlanders pitch their tents. There, she has found that people hunger for spiritual companionship.

Jess Kovach, another Jesuit Volunteer, is in the front lines of Catholic Charities’ Save First Financial Wellness Ministry. As Kovach meets low-income Portlanders seeking budget advice and matching savings grants, she finds they also want to be heard.

The Save First ministry can be difficult because while Kovach would like to solve everyone’s problems, there is only so much she can do to help with finances or housing. “So the biggest thing I realize is that I can be someone who listens,” said Kovach, who graduated last year from Washington University in St. Louis with an economics degree. “There are times when all I can do is be there and walk alongside the person.”

Henry and Kovach live in Southeast Portland with six other Jesuit Volunteers, praying regularly, seeking to live simply and furthering justice in the world. Jesuit Volunteers often discuss Pope Francis’ call to accompany those on the fringes of society.

Since 2016, Catholic Charities has employed eight Jesuit Volunteers.

Caroline Earnest, a former Jesuit Volunteer on staff at Save First, recalls the transformation JVs go through. Her assignment was to work with newly arrived refugees. She expected to accomplish all kinds of tasks for them in short order.

“That happens,” Earnest said. “But it’s often a slower process than you expect and it comes down to being there as the first step.”