It was one of those images you never forget – a lone priest riding a donkey, traveling from house to house to carry out the Lord’s work.
I was in the Dominican Republic, helping our Goods-In-Kind partner, Fundación Ciento Por Uno, deliver food to the poor in the remote Azua province – a long 3-hour drive from Santo Domingo way up in the mountains along winding dirt roads. That’s when I met this simple parish priest, Father Juan Cardenas, who felt the presence of God from the moment he started serving the poor.
“I never imagined myself working in the mountains; riding a donkey,” said Fr. Juan. “I was a scholar, studying in Rome, Portugal and Brazil. But God decided he needed me to serve the poor here in the remotest of places in the DR. That is what I do now and I know God is with me.”
He leaned forward, put his hand on my arm and his face erupted into a huge smile. He said, “You know how I know? Because God was with me even when I was robbed by bandits. They kidnapped me and tied me up. And even though I was frightened and weak, I somehow convinced the bandits to let me go. That wasn’t me,” he said. “That was God!”
Fr. Juan is such a humble man. I didn’t find it at all surprising that his favorite scripture was the Gospel of John. “It touches my heart,” he said. “He seems to be writing about his personal relationship with Jesus.” And as he spoke, I couldn’t help recalling the personal accounts that Fr. Juan was speaking of – how Mary anoints Jesus with her perfume, how Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, among others.
In the months to come, when the poor parishioners of the Azua province see this humble priest approach on the back of his donkey, they will notice he is training a young seminarian, Hector, to take over the parish. My heart is filled with hope that the same spirit of simple generosity will be passed on to a new generation.