An Unbound sponsor stands just outside a bamboo door of a small dwelling in a village in the central Philippines. She has traveled thousands of miles to be there after months of anticipation. Her sponsored child and his parents wait just inside the small house, smiling their welcome.
Feeling excited and nervous, the sponsor steps through the door and into the home, somehow knowing that her world is about to be forever changed.
On Dec. 8, Pope Francis stood outside an ancient set of doors in St. Peter’s Basilica, surrounded by hundreds of people. Performing a ritual dating back to the 14th century, the pope solemnly pushed the ornate doors open and walked through, officially inaugurating the Holy Year of Mercy.
In his homily prior to opening the doors, the pope spoke of the symbolism of the event.
“To pass through the holy door,” he said, “means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
The concept of encountering God through encountering others is a central theme of the papacy of Pope Francis. It’s also important to Unbound.
The essential, God-given dignity of every human being is at the heart of Unbound’s work. It impacts every decision we make and is reflected in our conviction that there’s something priceless to be found in relationships between people of goodwill, no matter how different their backgrounds.
Put another way, like Pope Francis, Unbound believes that those living in material poverty and those with the means to help them need one another.
The urgency of that mutual need was illustrated on Nov. 29 when, more than a week before the “official” door-opening at the Vatican, the pope ceremonially opened the unassuming wooden holy doors of the Bangui Cathedral in the Central African Republic. That the pope would choose a humble church in a war-torn, impoverished nation for his first door-opening was a significant — and unmistakable — statement of solidarity with those living on the margins.
It was also a reiteration of something Francis has stated repeatedly and in many ways since his election in 2013: The most profound encounters with God are not found in splendor but in humility.
Many who have participated in Unbound awareness trips can testify to that. Sponsors who visit the homes of families often speak of it as a life-changing experience. Each of these homes has, in a sense, its own “holy door,” (even when there is no actual door) and entering through it brings its own particular grace.
Dan Pearson, director of international programs for Unbound, said visiting the homes of sponsored persons and their families has broadened his worldview.
“Each year I visit the homes of dozens of sponsored families,” he said. “The families are randomly selected and the visits are unannounced. The purpose is to assess the quality of the experiences families are having in the sponsorship program.
“These visits are humbling opportunities to enter briefly into the reality of another person, to see the world from the perspective of a sponsored family.”
That act of entering into the reality of another — in a sense crossing the threshold of their life — is transformative. Pope Francis believes that for those who profess to follow Christ, it’s essential.
“To love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete,” the pope said in 2013. “It means seeing in every person and face the Lord to be served, to serve him concretely.”
In this Holy Year of Mercy, Unbound offers thanks for the many concrete expressions of service we are privileged to witness within our worldwide community of compassion, and the many “holy doors” these acts enable us to walk through.
We’re thankful to pastors and their parish communities for opening their doors to the priests who preach for Unbound. We’re thankful to sponsors for opening their hearts to those in need. And we’re thankful to our sponsored members and their families for allowing us sacred entry into their reality.