Ted Miles, Executive Director of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners, reflects on the power of love to heal our broken relationships and bind us together as God created us to be.
In 2010, during my first visit to Bolivia, I had the privilege of meeting Sr. Doris Huertas, founder of a refuge for young men living on the streets of El Alto, a rapidly growing urban center in the Altiplano highlands. Having achieved a law degree in her home country of Peru, Sr. Doris was destined for a different path. Her pro-bono work with imprisoned men in Lima, however, broke open her heart to the realities of poverty, addiction and mental illness, and subsequently inspired a calling to religious life.
During her initial years of formation, Sr. Doris maintained a pastoral prison ministry. Not surprisingly, it would continue to shape an understanding of God’s call in her life. Amidst a time when her religious congregation was discerning what it could do to more authentically live the Gospel, Sr. Doris invited the men she was serving into a shared reflection. Much to her amazement, they encouraged her to cease the prison ministry and, instead, focus her ministry to boys and young men living on the streets. If someone with her compassion had helped to break the cycles of violence, poverty and addiction years earlier, then perhaps life would have been very different for these men that she accompanied.
Sr. Doris embraced the recommendation and went to La Ceja, home to the largest concentration of marginalized children in El Alto. As she listened and ministered to children and teenagers on the streets, Sr. Doris discovered a recklessness and despair stemming from the pain and brokenness of abandonment, molestation, abuse, addiction to alcohol and clefa (an inhaled recreational drug derived from gasoline), and the loss of childhood. In 2000, after several months learning about these realities, Sr. Doris opened Luz de Esperanza, or the Light of Hope, a remarkable non-profit offering shelter, meals, education, recreation, life skills, and vocational training. During our visit, a newly arrived teenage boy in the throes of alcohol detoxification suddenly went into a seizure. Without blinking an eye, our young guides immediately left our group to privately surround him, hold him with the greatest of care, and assure his safety until the seizure passed.
This single moment offered a glimpse into Sr. Doris’ greatest gift: the creation of a sanctuary in which the love of God is poured into the hearts of its young residents through authentic community. Each one reclaims his dignity while discovering his capacity to love and to transform his affliction into “endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,” a hope that will not disappoint.
Sr. Doris and the young men of Luz de Esperanza embody the mystery of the Trinity, a concept that is difficult to put into words. The Trinity points to God’s very nature as relationship. The Trinity also points to our true nature in which, according to Pope Francis, “we are called to live not without each other, over or against the other, but with one another, and in one another.”* The Trinity, and trinitarian love much like that which characterizes communal life at Luz de Esperanza, returns us to God’s active love – a love that is creating, redeeming and sanctifying. It reminds us that we do not have it go it alone, that immersion into love re-creates and redeems us by pulling us back to whose we are, who we are, and our call to holiness.
The Trinity provides assurance that we are always connected to profound intimate love. When the world would have us believe otherwise, faith helps us to discover the Spirit of Truth stirring within us until we know that love, compassion and mercy are at the core of each of us. We learn something akin to the South African principle, Ubuntu, which roughly translates to “I cannot be me without you; our lives, destinies are inextricably bound together.” Indeed, like the young men discovering new life in Luz de Esperanza, when we encounter the fullness of God through the love of another, we realize the healing power of mercy and discover the capacity to be fully what God created each of us to be. And, like Sr. Doris, we, too, are then guided to a deeper truth of finding our delight in God and each other. Like this tiny Bolivian community and so many people of good news throughout the world, whenever we choose to see beneath the surface of brokenness, we, too, foster joy, sustain life, and demonstrate through such witness that there are no limits, no excuses, no darkness that cannot be overcome. Such is the hope that will never disappoint.
* ANGELUS. POPE FRANCIS, Saint Peter's Square, Sunday, 31 May 2015.
Photo: Residents of Luz de Esperanza in 2010. Photo courtesy of Ted Miles/MKLM.