Sunday, I arrived to Harlingen, Texas to my new mission. Sister Elizabeth, a Sister I lived with in Macon, and I drove twenty hours, with a stop in New Orleans, to get here. I now work at Proyecto Juan Diego in the nearby city of Brownsville. It's hard to describe what exactly PJD is - a community center would be the best description. There are summer camps, exercise programs, citizenship and ESL classes, health education, tutoring, etc.
As Daughters of Charity, our treasure here on earth is the poor. Our heart is where the poor are. Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise didn't found a religious community simply to start one - it had nothing to do with different Bible verses as charisms, a different spirituality...although those things did have a part. They founded the Daughters of Charity (and Saint Vincent - the Congregation of the Mission, our brother community) to serve the poor in a world where religious were cloistered. Nothing more, nothing less. They didn't found the community to start a revolution within the Catholic world, although other communities would soon follow their example, slowly changing the face of religious life in the Church.
|It is Christ in the poor |
that sets our hearts on fire
(This is the logo of the DCs)
Yet I also believe there is a vocation within the vocation of a Daughter of Charity. Serving the poor makes our heart come alive. My own vocation as a Daughter of Charity means that treasure that holds my heart is the poor, yes, but there is another "treasure within a treasure" that is special to me - serving the Hispanic poor. It seems like my whole life pointed me to the Hispanic poor - (now here we go with some much-deserved promotion) with my Spanish teacher at the Institute of Notre Dame who inspired me, volunteering and then later working at Education Based Latino Outreach, and then my time in Bolivia with VIDES (Salesians). God pointed my whole life so I would fall in love with them.
While I liked living in Macon, my service to Hispanics was limited. As Sr Irma drove me around the "colonia" (neighborhood) surrounding Proyecto Juan Diego, I was overcome with emotions. I felt an intense sense of belonging. I felt my heart growing in joy.
I don't mean to speak for all Daughters of Charity but, based on what I know and experienced, every one of them would say that there is some group of the poor that makes their heart come alive. It may be working with Hispanics or even other immigrants, may be the homeless, may be working with the rural poor, may be working with abandoned children, may be working with single-parent moms struggling to make ends meet, it may be the sick. While the poor are our treasure, a special piece of our heart is held by a people.
Sister Elizabeth was with us in Texas for a few days before going back home. She was able to see me at I first met the ministry of Proyecto Juan Diego. As we drove back to the house in Harlingen, we had this exact conversation. A comment she made made me laugh but only because it made so much sense. She said "I want to learn Spanish but mainly because there are Hispanics at St Peter Claver Church [the church we attend in Macon] and I want to connect with them. I don't necessarily feel a calling to be in Hispanic ministry. But give me a guy that lives under a bridge that smells of cigarettes and beer, and I'm there!"
Jesus was right (but of course He was) - if our treasure is the poor, then our heart is there as well. But only that, but later, He tells his disciples "And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be." (Matthew 6:23) If we are with our treasure, if we are where our hearts live, there will be not great darkness and the light in us will shine and shine its brightest.
(As I write this blog post, I feel more and more that this is one of the poorest posts I have ever written but only because it's so hard to put into words the passion that I feel for the Hispanic poor, it's so hard to do justice to Sr Elizabeth's love of the homeless or to any other Daughter of Charity and their love of the sick, of children, of parents, etc, yet it is something I feel compelled to share...or rather, borrowing from the Daughters of Charity motto, Christ urges me to do so.)