For three years I was a member of a team of Maryknoll missioners (lay people, priests and brothers) working in the city of Barinas, Venezuela. We served people who lived in several low-income neighborhoods. These people faced many challenging situations, for instance when a member of their family dies. Again and again I saw firsthand how together these Venezuelans with little money were able to meet that kind of challenge.
Following a long-established tradition, most people in Barinas would have in their own home the wake for any deceased member of their family. Certainly hospitality is an important value for these people. But how on earth could people with so little money, just getting by, ever be able to host everyone who’d come to the wake, all the relatives, friends and neighbors of the deceased?
Let’ say that Don Fernando died. One of his friends, Dona Josefina, had relatives who were coffee farmers. That is how she would be able to bring some coffee that could be prepared and served to the guests at the wake. Also one of Don Fernando’s nephews, Pepe, would bring some chairs from his house. That way guests at the wake would be able to sit down for a while. Many other people would likewise find ways that they could help with the wake.
There was no family in these neighborhoods of Barinas that, by itself, would be able to host a wake. Nonetheless all were able to find the social support, the food, and the consolation needed to face the death of someone whom they loved, because people joined together, with each one sharing of what they had.
Centuries ago St. Paul experienced times when he was in need, as well as times when he had plenty. After he went through some difficult experiences, Paul told some Philippians how grateful he was to them: “you sent me something for my needs, not only once, but more than once” (Phil. 4:16)
Those Philippians had been inspired by God to do their part to help Paul, and Paul foresaw that there would also be people inspired to help those Philippians when they would be in need (Phil 4:19)
Through our support for one another in our communities and in our world, God empowers us so that we can face challenging situations. These days there are all kinds of serious problems in our world, our communities and perhaps also our families. That God, when together we do our part, as God’s part, no one of us has to face overwhelming situations all alone. That gives me great hope!
Photo: Children in Caracas, Venezuela. (J. Coode/MOGC)