By Father Mark Lane, CFCA preacher
I wonder whether I will ever forget Juana’s tears.
In October I found myself in a corn field on the outskirts of Solol·, in Guatemala’s central highlands, as a CFCA representative handed over the keys to a new home for Juana and her family.
Juana cries tears of joy upon moving into her new house.
Juana was crying because she was moving 15 feet from her old home ñ a 6-by-6-foot stick and adobe hut with a tin roof and dirt floor ñ to a new 10-by-20-foot concrete, three-room hacienda (Spanish for the main dwelling on an estate or other property) with steel windows and doors, a covered porch and a pristine concrete floor.
Having had to crouch to enter her old house without windows, where every surface seemingly hid under a thick layer of creosote from the open fire, I got a sense of the emotional weight of the gift of her new home: a home as open and full of light as her heart now appeared.
“I keep waking up and touching the walls,” she said. “I can’t believe I am so blessed to call this my home.
“Es un milagro,” she kept repeating. “It is a miracle.”
Now Juana has enough room for her father and two children to sleep in their own beds with a mattress and blankets, instead of huddled together in a hollow in her former hut’s dirt floor.
Despite its poverty, Guatemala is a spectacularly beautiful place. No wonder the Mayans are proud to call it home. High in the mountain range that crosses from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean are 30 or so volcanoes, some active. In the center of that range is Lake Atitlan, which some describe as the most beautiful lake in the world.
I could well believe it as our minibus labored through the road’s twists and turns back from Solol· to the CFCA office in San Lucas Toliman.
As we corkscrewed higher, a vista opened to reveal, several thousand feet below, a glittering lake ñ like a bowl of joyful tears ó surrounded by improbably steep hills and equally improbable villages clinging to the slopes ñ clinging as tenaciously to life as the Mayans, like Juana and her family. The scene seemed to capture the gift of what I had just seen.
It is a rare kind of privilege, and a pretty simple one, to radically affect the quality of another person’s life. But having seen Juana’s broad smile and abundant tears, I made a mental note to myself: I must share with everyone how their gifts to CFCA can be an answer to prayer ñ how a few dollars invested in the right project can seem like “un milagro (miracle).”
But the miracle is not just that I or we can give to help others. The miracle is that no matter who we are, where we are born, what we have or what we are called, we can learn to see ever more clearly our true worth and dignity.
Father Greg Schaffer, the Minnesota-born pastor of the San Lucas Toliman parish for 47 years, expressed it well, “The first thing destroyed in poverty is self-esteem.” Juana’s tears expressed something of the gift of her emerging self-esteem.
But I saw that gift given by people like Juana to me and my fellow travelers on this mission awareness trip. Partnering with sponsored children and aging helps us discover our own dignity and deeper reasons for self-esteem.
What is the value of a friendly smile between an elderly Guatemalan woman, whom I had never met and will likely not meet again, and the aging priest I have become? What can truly be said when we try to reach beyond the barrier of different languages to the deeper unity of shared human hearts?
What price do you put on the experience of walking along a dusty road for a mile hand in hand with two schoolchildren practicing their English and kindly correcting your attempts at Spanish, imitating and initiating silly games that speak of a wisdom rarely learned in study halls?
Could it be that I am a person of dignity just because I am the person across the table from you, holding your hand, sharing your tears? Even if I look strange and foreign?
Could my value lie not in what I can do for you, but with you?
Father Mark Lane
We may not be capable of changing the world, redressing all her ills and injustices, but we can reach out via this small, simple step of sponsorship to partner with others on this quest for deeper humanity and enduring dignity.
What is the point of sponsorship? Reach out and find out ñ es un milagro!
Father Lane, a priest of the Oratory and Pastor of St Boniface in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., has been sponsoring a child with CFCA for more than 10 years. His current sponsored friend is Karen in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Father Lane went to Guatemala in October 2010 with a dozen other sponsors from all over the U.S. He is about to “go on the road” to preach in parishes to help find sponsors for people like Juana and her children.