Cross Catholic Outreach staff members were recently blessed with an opportunity to work alongside Father Glenn Meaux in Kobonal Haiti, distributing food to elderly villagers. That morning, some of the villagers had walked from miles away to receive their monthly supply, which they rely on for their basic nutritional needs. As each beneficiary stepped to the front of the line, he or she kindly thanked us for our help. In reply, we were instructed by Fr. Glenn to say a phrase in Creole that means “you deserve it.”
Those simple words freed the villagers to receive their rations with dignity. A respectful attitude is a crucial part of service to the poor, because a lack of dignity can be as harmful as a lack of food, water, shelter or other basic material need. The poor need to know – and truly believe – that they are human beings created in God’s image. And they need to have hope that their families are capable of escaping the cycle of poverty. Service without dignity crushes a community’s spirit and creates dependency. Service with dignity builds trust and inspires the poor to achieve a better future.
Fr. Glenn has earned the trust of the people of Kobonal by showing them genuine love and respect. Those benefits may not be quantifiable in the same way as the material aid Cross helps him provide, such as food and housing, but they are nonetheless important. And as you meet the villagers face-to-face and they become not just mouths to feed but real individuals – such as an 82-year-old widow who still works with her hands in the corn and peanut fields to earn a living – you realize the least you can say is “you deserve it,” because they’ve worked harder and suffered more than any of us ever have or ever will. You stop looking down on them because they are poor, and you start looking up to Christ who said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).