Interview with Father Carlos Piedrahita, Outreach Priest

Cross Catholic Outreach: Fr. Piedrahita, you’re currently serving as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach. What drew you to serve as an ambassador for the poorest of the poor in the developing world and take our message to the Catholic faithful throughout the U.S.?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: Certainly, the needs of the many brothers and sisters whom I experienced firsthand. Being a native of Columbia, I know the needs of the many poor people in countries that are developing, so when I heard the beautiful work that Cross Catholic Outreach was doing and how can we impact the reality of the poor but also the reality of our brothers and sisters in the U.S., helping them to help others, to exercise their charity, that motivates me to help bring this message across the country.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Pope Francis constantly shines a spotlight on the plight of the poor and those people, a phrase he uses, “on the margins of society.” What impact is his message having around the world on those who are suffering?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: I think it’s given them a lot of hope. Their issues are not their own issues. Their issues are those that affect the whole Catholic Church. And for us, they’re not exceptions to reality. Their issues are more common than we think. We need to take care of the poverty not only spiritually but materially of our brothers and sisters as well. We need to share the resources that we have, our talents, and if we have the opportunity, we will be serving the Lord in a beautiful way. Having that conscious[ness] of how to exercise charity and how to be a support for those who are in need, I think, is something great that Pope Francis is helping us to reflect on again. For the poor, he’s given a word of hope that we need to take care of them and that they are a special part of the Heart of Jesus, that they should keep that hope in the Lord.

Cross Catholic Outreach: One of the ministries of Cross Catholic Outreach is Box of Joy®, and I know that you’ve participated in both sides of Box of Joy. You participated in a packing here in the United States with a seminary group, and you’ve also been in Guatemala, where we had a Box of Joy delivery to children who live in destitute poverty. What kind of difference is Box of Joy making, and what benefits would a Catholic parish in the United States experience by participating?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: Well, the experience with the seminary was powerful because, you know, the whole seminary community came together to do that packing and to collect the money. And there was a lot of enthusiasm and a beautiful time of the year because we were doing Advent. So rather than start giving gifts to poor kids, the whole seminary met together to develop this campaign, this project. And later on, a few months after we did the packing, we had the opportunity to visit Guatemala with a mission trip and a group of seminarians from theological college. So we experienced, you know, the joy of the kids receiving those boxes. That was just amazing because many of them didn’t have things to bring to school or toys. It was the end of February, but for them, it was Christmas. It was maybe the only gift that they were receiving. It was a lot of joy certainly for them, so the name of the project is perfect because it’s a Box of Joy that really is bringing joy to those kids who are in great need, you know. We delivered those boxes of joy in a couple of different places. One was an orphanage, just a group of poor girls and a couple of boys in very limited conditions. For them, it was also a time to not only rejoice because [of] a gift but a time [to] rejoice because of the company of the seminarians and knowing that other people in a different country are taking care of them. So you know, it was very, very special. We visited a poor school as well, you know, where the teachers were having a challenge in many different ways, you know, because of the poverty of the town. Bringing some utensils, some supplies for them to be able to develop new activities was a blessing, too. They appreciate it as well, so bringing that joy to those kids in real need and to their parents, that’s joy for the whole family. For the schools, the orphanages, it was beautiful. I think it was like a true communion between the seminarians and all the seminary community who were supporting this project and then bringing those gifts to the kids. I think it’s something very easy to develop in the parish, you know, to involve different groups, different communities, and serve the poor in a beautiful way. So both the packing, the delivery and the whole project [were] a blessing and certainly a source of joy for all those who participated, the recipients but also the people who developed the project.

Cross Catholic Outreach: You visited many of our projects in Guatemala, including where we have feeding programs, medical clinics, and we bring clean water [to] schools, as you mentioned. Is there one project from your trip with the seminarians to Guatemala that Cross Catholic Outreach supports that stands out in your mind?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: Well, certainly, it was a powerful experience. My first visit to Guatemala was a year before the mission trip with the seminarians, and we visited the New Jerusalem project, you know, for developing houses for victims of the Fuego volcano. That certainly impacted me a lot because it was my first time in Guatemala, but it was a very moving experience hearing the testimonies of many of the people who [were] suffering in that tragedy. But all the beautiful projects that we visit[ed] in Guatemala during the mission trip were amazing. Being able to work in the construction of the school for one morning, being there with all the workers and doing everything that they were doing, moving trees and wood, you know, it was very special.

But visiting the girls in the orphanage was amazing … because [of] all the joy that they have there. I celebrated the Mass, and they ha[d] a lot of energy; you know, their participation in that Mass was very alive. You know, they were singing with their whole heart, they were answering the prayers of the Eucharist, you know, by heart, being grateful to the Lord for many different things. That impacted me a lot because those are a group of girls who are living in very limited conditions. But because of the love that they receive from the sisters who are taking care of them and love that they’re receiving from many different people supporting the orphanage, including Cross Catholic, who is supporting financially the orphanage, they are able to live a beautiful life — a life full of joy, a life full of hope. So that impacted me a lot; you know, that group of girls who were very into the faith, very respectful to the nuns and to their professors, and being grateful for all the blessings that they have in the midst of their limitations.

Certainly, just right after we visited Guatemala and the orphanage, they had a great need because it was the beginning of the time of the coronavirus, so the government asked to close all the educational centers, including those orphanages. Those girls were sent to their families, but their families are really poor, you know. Pretty much the condition of the orphanage [is that] they accept girls who lost one of their parents, at least, and the other parent doesn’t have the financial resources to maintain them. So going back to that reality where they didn’t have money just to buy their food or cleaning supplies, it was, you know, something heartbreaking. But as an effect of the visit that we had, the seminarians and some members of the faculty also helped them to get some resources. You know, we started developing relationships with the people, so that’s another beautiful part of [that] visit. We can see firsthand all the wonderful things the support and the prayers of Cross Catholic Outreach and the people who are donating money in different parishes are doing for the people. How we can change the reality of the people [and] afterward continue supporting them is something beautiful. And the level of conscience or sensibility from [the] seminarians changed a lot. So it was a life-changing experience for many of us, and we’re just grateful for that opportunity.

Cross Catholic Outreach: As an Outreach Priest, you travel all over the United States to parishes of all different sizes to take this message of the poor. What are the benefits a parish community experiences by hosting a Cross Catholic Outreach priest, and what do pastors and parishioners say to you about their experiences?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: I think many people are eager to hear [about] the reality of our brothers and sisters in need in other places. The vast majority of our parishes in the United States have, you know, a good socioeconomic situation. It could be a poor parish, but it’s so different [when] compared with the poor parish in a poor country. So when they hear the stories, when they hear the testimony of what’s going on in other places and how they can change the reality through their prayers but also with some financial support, it doesn’t matter at the end; the amount is beautiful, you know. They know they can contribute to improve the situation of a new family in this or that country. I think the communities get a lot of benefit from that sense of civilization about the poor, about the needs of others, but also about the blessings and generosity of the poor people, because sometimes we’re not conscious about that. I usually use an example of generosity from them because they have many different testimonies of how to be generous. The poor people in these countries are putting everything that they have to the service of the Lord, to the service of the Church, their talents, their money, everything that they have. So how [can] we not support these brothers and sisters who are putting everything there to the service of Christ? So that part of sensibility for the community, I think, is really important. When they hear how these products are coming to us, how we’re trying to use the money in the best way possible, they’re really impacted as well. Because it’s not a nonprofit organization like any others, but one that is connected to our Catholic faith [that] is helping developing integral projects in communities, not only materially but spiritually as well.

Because it was something I saw in Guatemala as well. We are helping spiritually these communities. We’re supporting Catholic charities, we’re supporting the faith programs that they are developing in small communities. It’s been an exposure of the good testimony of the Catholic Church for those communities, for the pastors. I hear just beautiful things when the people start knowing more [about] Cross Catholic, when we have the opportunity to visit communities every year or every two years. You know, what we are doing and the different projects that they are getting updates [on], different projects around the world, they’re, you know, grateful for the experience and more sensitive to the needs of others.

Cross Catholic Outreach: There’s always the need for more priests to serve in the vineyard. What would you say to your brother priests who are considering devoting part of their ministry to the poor as an Outreach Priest for Cross Catholic Outreach?

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: I think it’s a beautiful way to serve Christ, to serve the Church, to serve the poor. That, of course, implies a sacrifice because, you know, traveling from one place to another in a weekend, on a tight schedule, is not easy. But that’s our ministry; we’re here to offer our sacrifice to Christ and the Church and being able to support also our brother priests who, for some reason, cannot be at their parish or need some time off. And bring[ing] the Gospel of Christ, talking about the poor to those beautiful communities is just amazing. You know, it’s certainly missionary work when you’re going from one place to another. Bringing the Gospel of Christ and preaching the good news is just life-changing and an experience that I’m grateful for, over these two and a half years that I’m serving for Cross [Catholic]. So it’s certainly something I highly recommend to many. I invite many of my priest friends to join the ministry. A couple have already, and it’s been a very positive and a beautiful experience for them. So, to all the priests who want to join this ministry, I say, please come here with all your energy, all your talents to serve the Lord, to serve the poor and to serve the Church.

Cross Catholic Outreach: Alright, Fr. Carlos Piedrahita. Thank you for your time today and thank you for your ministry to the poor.

Fr. Carlos Piedrahita: Thank you; I appreciate it.

Box of Joy is a ministry of Cross Catholic Outreach.