Brian Escobar longs for the simple blessing of a safe place to sleep.
Brian Escobar longs for the simple blessing of a safe place to sleep.

See Christ in the Poor, and See Where It Takes You

Our Lord’s words in Matthew 25 are inspiring the transformation of a community in Guatemala.   

Seeing Christ’s face in the poor is a familiar idea to most Christians. This belief that we can serve our Lord whenever we help someone in need is a central message in Matthew 25: 31-46, one of the best-known passages in the New Testament. It’s so familiar, in fact, that if we’re not careful, we can become a little ambivalent about it — or worse, not act as if we believe it is true.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, who spent her life in the trenches of poverty, often talked about recognizing our Lord in “the distressing disguise” of the poor. It’s as if the great saint hoped this extra flourish of description might end our complacency and make us realize who we are actually serving when we help people in need.

Pope Francis, in his message for the World Day of the Poor next month, reminds us of the same: “We do not find him when and where we want,” the Holy Father says, “but see him in the lives of the poor, in their sufferings and needs, in the often inhuman conditions in which they are forced to live.”

Related: Papal Message for the Fifth World Day of the Poor

Suffer the Children

Little Brian has never slept in a bedroom — or in a safe home.

He lives in poverty in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima in Guatemala. Each night, he goes to sleep in the dirt-floored shanty he shares with his parents and siblings. The corroding tin walls and roof of the one-room abode with no running water and no electricity are full of holes that let in the elements. When it rains, everything inside gets wet and the dirt floor turns to mud.

There’s rarely enough food for the family to eat properly, and it’s easy to see why Brian and the other children are often sick.

But in Brian’s village in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, we’re committed not only to seeing Christ in the poor but also to taking action to transform a community.

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A Plan of Real Transformation

Working closely with Father Raúl Monterroso, a dedicated priest who leads the local Caritas Santa Rosa ministry, we’re planning to bring more than 800,000 protein-rich meals to this community, where many are malnourished and hungry.

We’re also seeking to build more than 100 stormproof concrete homes for families like Brian’s, who are living in dirt-floored shacks.

Besides meeting these and other material needs, we’re working to bring spiritual healing to families who have long lived without hope. In the coming months, we plan to train more than 5,000 catechists and lay leaders who will lead retreats and other Church activities, including this Advent and Christmas.

Thinking about our work in Santa Rosa de Lima, I’m excited about the initiative and what it promises. It begins with a commitment to see Christ in the poor — and then moves to definitive action to relieve the suffering of children like Brian and his family.

You can easily — and fruitfully — play a part in this work, and I hope you will. For starters, you can make sure a child like Brian has a nutritious meal every day or join the effort to build a house for a family like his.

Investing in Their Future — and Yours

It’s meaningful to me and I hope to you too that this project and many other CCO projects invite families like Brian’s to participate in their own transformation. For example, if they’re able, they can invest sweat equity in helping build the sturdy house they’ll occupy one day.

Our holistic ministry outreach in places like Santa Rosa de Lima including providing a Catholic education for poor children, delivering agricultural training and startup supplies to improve crop yields, and more aims to bring about far-reaching change. In short, we’re not only helping families break the cycle of poverty, but we’re also involving them in the work to achieve greater self-sufficiency.

And by taking part in this transformative work, you too will likely receive as you give. The spiritual fruits St. Francis and other saints point to when they note that “It’s in giving that we receive” will be yours. I hope and expect that participating in our projects like Santa Rosa de Lima helps you draw closer to God.

When you take seriously the message of Matthew 25 that it truly is our Lord we serve when we feed, shelter or otherwise minister to a poor child like Brian, that spiritual growth is practically guaranteed and, speaking from experience, one of the most exciting feelings in the world.   

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Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2022, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.