On a recent trip to Guatemala, I was reminded of how universal the love of a parent can be. I was visiting Hope of Life, and the ministry took me to the village of El Remolino – a poor community adjacent to a large municipal dump. While touring the village, I met a woman who really touched my heart. Her name was Olga Garcia, and she had two children – Monica, 4, and Jordy, 2.
Olga said she brings in income by gathering recyclables at the nearby dump and by doing other people’s laundry. “I grew up around the dump, so I didn’t have the chance to go to school,” she said. “But I will make sure my children will have a better life than me. Like my daughter, Monica. She is so smart. She was chosen to be flag bearer at the school. She says, ‘Mom, I want to be a teacher.’ She says this at such a young age. I am so proud of her.”
I thought of my own children and of the sacrifices that all parents make. Then I reminded myself that it’s a billion times tougher for parents born into poverty. I thanked Olga for her time, and said a quick prayer on her behalf.
On a recent mission trip to Guatemala, I had one of those experiences that hits you in the gut – the kind that’s so shocking it numbs the mind. While visiting Hope of Life in Zacapa, the ministry took us to the village of El Remolino – a community adjacent to a large municipal dump. Our guides at Hope of Life told us communities like this exist all over Guatemala. There, generations of children experience a life of foraging for garbage. It is the only life they have known, and the same has been true for their parents and grandparents. Unless the cycle of poverty can be broken, our ministry partner explained, it will be the life these children’s children will experience as well.
While walking through the area, I met a young boy digging earnestly in the garbage. He said his name was Roberto. He is 12 years old. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the pungent smell of garbage and smoke. I was, and I had to fight the urge to cover my nose and mouth. Instead, I breathed in the thick, dirty air, hoping I could grow accustomed to it.
I asked Roberto what he was looking for. “Stuff. Anything,” he said. I was amazed how methodical he was at digging through the trash. Roberto told me he had just gotten out of school. I wondered how long he would remain in class. Due to sickness and the hard work, most find it difficult to stay in school. I wondered if Roberto would live The Trash Life or escape it.
I said a quick prayer for the boy and reminded myself that I could play a role in helping him. We all can. That is the mission of Cross – to empower ministry leaders serving in these areas and to help children like Roberto find new hope.
In the Diocese of Zacapa in Guatemala, Father Francisco Murcia dedicated the home of Marina Mendez and her daughters. Before moving into her new home, Marina and her daughters were crammed into a crumbling one-room mud and stick shack with other relatives. Through the kindness of Cross Catholic Outreach supporters and the ministry of the Diocese of Zacapa and local housing provider Esperanza de Vida, Marina and her children moved into the this sturdy concrete home. Their new house has two bedrooms, a living room, a lockable door and windows. As depicted in the photo, each home provided by the diocese is dedicated to the Lord by the parish priest and every family is given a new Bible. These homes represent a fresh start in life and are a tangible reminder of God’s mercy and love.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
We’d been traveling from house to house in rural Guatemala, meeting beneficiaries of a community-wide water project, when we met Sebastian Set. This young father, along with his wife and four children, beamed with joy and gratitude as they sat with us in their home and talked about how their lives were changing.
Thanks to Cross Catholic’s partnership with the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, this poor family had received a durable, concrete house along with a sanitary latrine and a home water tap — things that were once unattainable to them. But there was a problem.
Guatemalan water systems typically only run on certain days of the week. When the water is running, the families have to store some for later use. Blue, 55-gallon storage barrels are a ubiquitous presence among the water taps in Sebastian’s farming community. However, when we arrived at his home, there was no such barrel in sight. We learned that Sebastian’s income was so small, he didn’t even have $30 to buy a barrel.
The idea that $30 was getting in the way of this family’s need for clean water was especially distressing since Sebastian had been a village crew leader during the ditch digging phase of the project. Sebastian had encouraged his neighbors to work hard, telling them this opportunity was from God.
As Sebastian spoke, my colleague and I exchanged concerned glances. We agreed, then and there, that we couldn’t leave Sebastian’s house without solving this issue. This was our chance to be Christ’s hands and feet of mercy.
When we broke the news to the family that they would get their storage barrel, they were overjoyed. With this $30 item, they can finally take full advantage of the new water system they worked so hard to help install! To God be the glory for connecting us with Sebastian and his family so that this simple but urgent need could be met!
In January, my family achieved a life goal. We bought our first house.
After months of web searches and house-of-horror viewings, the century-old, brick house seemed to descend out of the mists of paradise. Sized right and priced right for raising our four children, it felt like a miracle.Two weeks after moving into this dream home, I flew to Guatemala to meet other families who were moving into dream homes of their own – and it was a reality check to be sure. My journey from renter to homeowner hadn’t been half as revolutionary as the transition these families’ were experiencing by moving from dirt-floor shacks to permanent cement-block houses with durable walls and solid foundations. I had admired the well-maintained hardwood floors of our new house.
These families were grateful to have a floor at all. I had geeked out over my keyless entry locks. They took comfort in owning a lockable door for the first time in their lives. I had celebrated the convenience of three full bathrooms. They were content to receive a detached latrine as an alternative to relieving themselves in the bush. While it gave me peace-of-mind to hear my roof had recently been redone, they were thrilled to be able to sleep through rainstorms without waking up soaked to the bone. It was humbling to watch as they rejoiced over the miracle of having a water tap at their homes — a blessing they thought they’d never see in their lifetimes. It was also inspiring to hear them talk joyfully about community spirit, better relationships with neighbors, the power of prayer, and a profound sense of gratitude for the work of our ministry partner, the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.
When you walk among the people the diocese has touched, you feel their renewed energy — the sense that positive changes are just beginning.Yes, God has answered the prayers of these precious people — and you and I got to be a part of it! Thanks to everyone who made this life-changing work possible by supporting our “Restoring Hope” campaign. Your gift has made a profound difference in the lives of the poor.
When we dropped in on the children eating lunch at the Misioneros del Camino orphanage in Guatemala, we captured a precious moment: a 1-and-half year old in a highchair reaching for the hand of the child in the highchair beside her.
The child on the left is Azucena, a girl who was brought to the home after her mother disappeared. The other is Katherine, a child with a rare genetic disorder called Hunter syndrome. Though Katherine looked about the same size as Azucena, she was actually 4 years old.
Katherine’s disability, which included being born with her vertebrae fused together, had been intensified by severe neglect. At Misioneros del Camino, which receives nutritional support from Cross Catholic Outreach, she is getting lots of love…especially from her best friend, Azucena. We were told that the girls are their own best therapy. And from the look of it, they certainly seemed inseparable. The smiling Azucena just kept reaching for Katherine, while Katherine, who had previously appeared morose, now glowed with delight at the attention.
It’s the little moments such as this that reveal the true health of a program. Children are mirror images of what is really going on behind closed doors. When you see joy, kindness and contentment in the faces of children rescued from situations of terrible brokenness, you know they have found a good home.
Christ is present at Misioneros Del Camino, and every touch, every hug, every twinkling eye radiates his mercy.
Majestic mountains lined our views on the bumpy trek back to the mission grounds after a long day in the field. The sky created a peach-blue haze around the peaks, like a watercolor painting hanging over the isolated villages in Zacapa.
I suppose there’s a juxtaposition there. I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape after hours in the dense Guatemalan heat rescuing malnourished babies, transporting them to Esperanza de Vida’s nutrition center for care and saving them from the ill fate that awaited them had we not made it in time.
God’s creation had a restored significance under the emotional burden of child rescues. Suddenly, overlooked scenery became art to be appreciated — and the mountains against the sun were breathtaking. They were the backdrop while listening to Carlos Vargas, Director of Esperanza de Vida, recount his first rescue 25 years ago. The rescue that launched this life-changing ministry.
“I was looking for an old man when I heard a baby crying and we went to see,” Carlos said. “The mother had killed her oldest son and left Jose to die. She had mental problems. Jose was a year and a half old, eating rotten beans from a bowl and sitting on the floor. The beans had a layer of foam over them and smelled horrible,” Carlos described. “He cried all the way to the hospital, and in his eyes, God spoke to me. I’m not an emotional fanatic, but I believe that is how God speaks to me – through children. Little babies. I believe that’s the way God talks to me.”
Carlos has a very matter-of-fact personality. He tells it like it is and stands by his convictions, “I can’t tell you I’ve had a dream and God told me this and that. No. I’ve always had my feet on the ground. I think it would scare me to death to hear a voice from heaven.” Yet, Carlos had the faith to recognize Christ’s voice in Jose’s cries.
Carlos adopted Jose. Now, at 25, Jose the first rescue in Zacapa is a rescuer alongside his father, saving starving children from the same mountains he was pulled out of. A full-circle miracle.
I was so moved by this story for various reasons. Mainly, the detail in Christ’s call. We serve a God that not only knows who we are enough to tailor his voice to the ways in which we would hear him, but a God who knows what we can be and addresses us accordingly.
God’s unique call sprung Carlos into action and into a commitment to serve the poor in his country. It was a checkpoint for my personal walk with Christ and my purpose as a believer. What is he saying? How is he saying it? And am I listening?
I make sure to look for him, to listen for him, in the small things. In the lyrics of a song, the fog right before the rain, the gentle smile on a stranger’s face or the open opportunities to be a light in the darkness of someone’s life. The details are so important that I find myself in awe of his presence everywhere.
I’m still new to South Florida, and the ocean is my favorite poem authored by him. Grandeur and simplicity wrapped in one element; he’s so creative. My amazement turns into praise and it continually shapes and molds my faithfulness.
I guess it’s easy to feel compelled after facing the life or death of an innocent infant in a poverty-stricken, forgotten society in the mountains of a developing country. But purpose can get lost in the shuffle when we come back to the office, back to our routines and the return to first world problems.
“I believe many times we get to a place where we can’t find or see a solution. We need someone to take us by the hand and help us,” Carlos said. “That’s how we hear God’s voice, through people saying ‘help me’.”
I remember this and know that God is always talking; I just have to keep listening.
Last month, Fr. Raúl Monterroso and Bishop Bernabé Sagastume of Santa Rosa, Guatemala came to visit us at the Cross Catholic offices. It was more than a “thank you” for our support of their ministry. It was a cordial and fraternal gathering intended to encourage unity. The highlight was when Bishop Sagastume gave a morning devotion to the entire Cross staff. He presented it in his native Spanish, with an English translator.
The devotion, “God Loves Cheerful Giver”, was powerful in any language, but it was particularly moving to our Spanish-speaking staff members. Some were brought to tears. Not being fluent in Spanish, I asked a Hispanic friend to explain why the reaction had been so strong. She said, “I heard the devotion in both languages, but it meant so much more to me in Spanish. I felt it all the way in my gut.”
I thought back to the translated words of Bishop Sagastume, and I remember how he spoke so eloquently of the power of charity and of how it is truly the essence of the Church. I also remembered that my Hispanic friend pointed out that the word “charity” in Spanish – caridad – also means “mercy” or “grace”. Caridad is a very active word in Spanish, she said. It is a beautiful word – a Christian word.
Suddenly I understood why there were so many glistening eyes in the room when Bishop Sagastume spoke of how beautiful it is to be a Christian. “It is not a burden,” he said. No es una carga. “It is like having wings.” Sino que son alas.
That image is beautiful and inspiring in any language. It speaks of how what we do as Christians – devoting ourselves to acts of charity – is never limiting. Rather, it sets us free.
Cross Catholic Outreach’s Vitafood shipments can’t come too soon for Sr. Irma Davila. She and her fellow Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption are being stretched to feed 1,000 poor people per day, six days a week, in Mixco, Guatemala. She’s already distributed a supply of dried fruits received from Cross, and now she’s looking forward to receiving the nutrient-enriched rice packets.
Here’s why this outreach is so important…
Last week on Tuesday, droves of hungry children lined up to be fed, but there was nothing to give them but donated cake and some pastries – a terrible choice in terms of nutritional value, but necessary to fill empty stomachs. The humble program relies mostly on donations of surplus or expiring food from local restaurants and businesses, and as beggars, they can’t be choosers.
While the kids didn’t seem to mind eating dessert for lunch, Sr. Irma is concerned by the shortage of more nutritional foods. As a parent, I can’t imagine not knowing from one day to the next whether there will be anything nutritious to feed my children.
God willing, our Vitafood meals will be on their way to Sr. Irma very soon, and she will be able to give the children in her care the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Please remember her the next time you grocery shop for your family – and use the moment to pray on her behalf. Pray too for Cross as we strive to help dedicated missionaries like the Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption be a force for positive change in their struggling communities.
December 20, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team
Father Christian doesn’t look, talk or act like a priest — by which I mean he doesn’t fit the mold popular culture perpetuates.
When we joined the Dominican parish priest en route to a remote farming community in need of a water system, Fr. Christian arrived in jeans and a white t-shirt. If a colleague hadn’t let me in on the secret, I would’ve assumed he was a local farmer or maybe a water engineer.
On the bumpy mountain road to our destination, Fr. Christian waved hello to every person we passed, and he pointed out every coffee bean farm with the exuberance of a child spotting cows. He grew up in this world, close to the earth, with dirt under his fingernails and manure on the soles of his shoes. He doesn’t pity the poor — he’s proud of the poor and the work they do each day — and he carries himself as if saying prayers were no less natural than rising at daybreak to feed the chickens.
Along the way, we stopped to pick up a delivery that had been stranded the day before when Fr. Christian’s truck couldn’t clear a muddy incline. The stack of PVC pipes was significantly longer than the bed of our pickup truck, but Fr. Christian went to work. We secured the load, cleared the hill, got stuck in another muddy patch, and ultimately reach our destination, where families suffering from insufficient water access waited to greet us.
This is what it looks like to work alongside the poor.
August 1, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team
Cross Catholic Outreach just received this photo from our ministry partner FUNDASEP in the Dominican Republic. Thanks to gifts from our generous supporters, Bishop Jose Grullón Estrella recently dedicated this water system in the village of Catanamatias. Before the system was installed, poor villagers walked miles in mountainous terrain to collect contaminated water. Because of our compassionate donors, clean water is now pumped to a spigot in front of their homes. Praise the Lord!
May 8, 2018 by Cross Catholic Team
Once a month, Father Juan Reyes celebrates Mass at this makeshift chapel in Batey #2. The Batey is one of many communities formed by poor Haitian immigrants who have migrated to the Dominican Republic in search of gainful employment in the sugar cane fields. Fr. Juan travels to an astonishing 30 remote locations like this – in addition to serving his home parish. What keeps him going? Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Cross Catholic Outreach ships supplies of medicine and food to Fr. Juan to serve the poor in the region. We love to work with such dedicated men of God in our efforts to improve the lives of the needy!
September 9, 2015 by Cross Catholic Team
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.
December 18, 2012 by Cross Catholic Team
Meeting basic water needs was a near impossibility for families in Rinconcito, a poor community in a remote, rural region of the Dominican Republic. Villagers only had three options—and all of them were unpleasant. They could draw from a hand-pump well that delivered salty water; they could spend half a day walking to a distant, freshwater river; or they could stand in line at the bottom of a hill, where villages use leaves to guide a small trickle of water into jugs. But, this river water tastes and smells like animal waste, and people using it run the risk of developing waterborne illnesses like cholera and chronic diarrhea.
In such dire circumstances, the needy people from this poor community cried out to the Lord in their thirst. And thankfully, their prayers are being answered though Cross Catholic Outreach and our ministry partner FUNDASEP, the rural outreach arm of the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana. Together, we have almost finished building an aqueduct and clean water holding tank that will provide hundreds of people with the gift of water.
I remembered the people living in Rinconcito during this morning’s daily reading from Psalms 72:1, 12-13 and 18-19, which says:
God, endow the king with your own fair judgment, the son of the king with your own saving justice,
For he rescues the needy who call to him, and the poor who has no one to help.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the needy from death.
Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders;
Blessed for ever his glorious name. May the whole world be filled with his glory!
This responsorial psalm is an encouraging reminder that our God rescues the needy and cares about the welfare of the destitute. Even though he alone saves, he invites us to help extend his blessings to his people. Families in Rinconcito have received the blessing of water that saves and are living proof of the wonderful works accomplished by Christ our Lord.
– Annie W.
August 7, 2012 by Cross Catholic Team
Cross Catholic Outreach International Projects Officer Claudio Merisio recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic, where he shared in a joyful celebration with the residents of La Patilla.
Why were these people celebrating?
Thanks to Cross Catholic, through our ministry partner FUNDASEP, they recently received a new 15,000-gallon water tank that is bringing safe, accessible water to 250 poor residents, who were previously using polluted water from a distant river.
“This water has united people,” said beneficiary Epifanio Mateo. “The community was deteriorating and many people were migrating to other areas. But now that the community has water, people are starting to come back and new people are moving in.”
The new water source is not only saving lives; it’s changing lives.
“I used to go to the river to fetch water. This was a difficult chore for me. One time I slipped and fell and was in pain for a long time,” said 70-year-old Rosa Moreta. “But now I have water at my doorstep. It is easy and painless to get. I am very grateful.
Claudio reported that the entire community shared in this thanks for the new water source. During his visit, they celebrated with hymns, Bible readings and a drama depicting the lives of residents before and after the water project.
“We are grateful for the Catholic Church for laying the first stone of this tank,” said one community member.
The community views the new water tank as a tangible expression of God’s faithfulness—and this has greatly encouraged religious leader Msgr. Jose Grullon Estrella: “The best evangelization is the one that manages to change people’s culture by bringing them closer to God.”
And that’s exactly why Cross Catholic partners with FUNDASEP. According to Claudio, FUNDASEP is doing a wonderful job displaying the Gospel. This was evident on many occasions during his trip—but one moment stood out among the rest.
He said by funding this water tank, it was apparent that Cross Catholic was not only meeting a physical need, but a spiritual one as well when beneficiary Francisco Medina performed a song he wrote in gratitude for our support: “Nada es imposible para ti; con Dios todo podemos!” Nothing is impossible for you; with God we can do anything!”
June 30, 2011 by Cross Catholic Team
I recently returned from the boondocks of the Dominican Republic, where we’re sponsoring construction of a remote bridge. We had to make sure my visit didn’t have rain in the forecast because once the river swelled I could have gotten stranded on the other side. The villagers have been stranded for weeks and months at a time. Farmers couldn’t take their harvest to the market, sick people couldn’t get to the hospital, teachers couldn’t come to the school, and villagers in town weren’t able make it back to their homes. Kids went without education, income-generating harvests rotted, supplies ran out, and things got pretty desperate. Some families even lost loved ones who tried to cross the river to get help, but died trying.
Victoria Victoriana came close to joining the mourners when her son almost drowned trying to cross the river. Villagers were able to rescue him, but Victoria never forgot that day’s trauma. She said, “Ever since my son was rescued, every day I asked God for the miracle of the bridge!”
Well, God answered her prayers. Today Puente de Milagros, the “Bridge of Miracles,” is being constructed and Victoria laid the first cornerstone. She even contributed $5 of the $8 she owned toward the project. She told me, “I’m an old lady – I want to cross that bridge before I die!”