By Evelyn Moya – Special to the Florida Catholic
This year, the Gallup Poll ranked nurses, teachers and pharmacists on the top three slots of most trusted professions, with the nurses topping the list for the past 17 years. However, lawyers were rated in the lower third of the list, below clergy but above members of Congress. Most lawyers would not be bothered by the Gallup Poll and would only aspire to be the lawyer that each client trusts.
In much the same way that the parables in the Gospel focus on the care of the weak, injured or infirm (The Good Samaritan); or the consolation of the bereaved and isolated (the widow in Naim); or the cleansing of the diseased outcasts (the lepers); the lawyers at Cenacle Legal Services have unmindfully lived the Gospel by intersecting their profession with it. “For what does the Lord ask of you but to act kindly, to work for justice and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8)
“Transforming Lives with Compassion and Dignity” is part of the mission of Cenacle, whose lawyers are all volunteers and serve the cause of justice pro bono (for the good of the public). Cenacle Legal Services, Inc. opened its doors in a building belonging to the Diocese of Venice, which has allowed its use rent-free. Since October 5, 2015; it has served over 400 income eligible individuals without regard to their race, age, gender, creed, disability or status in the United States. Clients are not charged any attorney fees.
When cura personalis* can sit above the law
*Caring for the whole person, a Jesuit principle; is crucial in human relations. Every fear or anxiety is based on a lack of trust or hope. Consider the case of Charlie (not his real name): Charlie came to Cenacle with an eviction notice, several credit card debts, and medical bills. Charlie also communicated by writing copious notes on a spiral notebook. He was being evicted for keeping four cats in his apartment unit where only two were allowed. He had otherwise been a good tenant, paying his rent on time and having lost his voice due to cancer surgery; was otherwise a quiet resident. When he wrote “These cats are all the family I have”; the lawyers knew they had to “think outside the box” and apply cura personalis. There were two options: alternate housing to allow the four cats or stay in the apartment with only two. The second choice made Charlie write: “I do not want them destroyed!”. It was a moment of grace when one attorney informed Charlie of a “no- kill shelter”. Charlie’s choice it was! No statute was needed to avoid the eviction.
It may be easy to presume that a young woman with a large amount of credit card debt is prodigal or immature. At the Intake interview, we met the young client, who had just completed her cosmetology course as a hairdresser; and who was denied a small loan by a bank based upon a credit report showing $6,000.00 credit card debt in her name. She swore she had never applied for one. Unknown to her, it was her alcoholic mother who had opened the account upon receiving the card in the mail.
We gave this young woman her options on how to proceed but she chose not to report her own mother’s wrongdoing. We initiated talks with the credit card company and explained to her how to build her credit record. In her, we had overcome a presumption.
At Cenacle Legal Services, the Gospel comes with live characters. We have volunteer lawyers (but will need more) who have come directly to the door to offer their services. Atty. John P. Cunningham, one of the incorporators of Cenacle, drives from Pinellas County to assist clients. We are grateful for the gems we have in our volunteers: lawyers, translators, social and digital media enthusiasts, IT support; and our energetic Board of Directors. Most of all, we are blessed with the prayers of our Bishop.
We at Cenacle Legal Services live for and through this well-loved passage: “Whatever you do for the least of my people; you do unto me” (Matthew 25:31-46)
Cenacle Legal Services, Inc. received the following recognitions:
2018 Outstanding Charity Award from the Sarasota Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers;
2019 Distinguished Service Award from the Sarasota County Bar Association.