As our Lent Reflections continue, Ana Cutts reflects on her visit to a slum in Buenos Aires and calls on us all to walk outside our comfort zones, touch the poverty of our brothers and sisters and make it our own.
Pope Francis says in his Lenten message, “We Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”
Recently, one of Pope Francis’ friends, Padre Jorge (also a Franciscan friar), walked us around the slums of Jose Leon Suarez on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Having walked and worked in the poorer neighborhoods of Argentina with Habitat for Humanity over the past 10 years, I was surprised to find myself out of my comfort zone. This was poverty in dimensions far more complex than we have dealt with firsthand.
These slums, like many around the world, are built on the smoky mountains of rubbish dumps. But it is not just the smells and the moving earth that complicate building and living here; as in many slum areas around the world, commercial interests have sprung up around the “merchandise” (or what most of us would call garbage).
Criminal activity has increased, affecting the most vulnerable in this home to 160,000 people. Walking through the area was like fasting 40 days and nights in 40 minutes! This stripped us of all the answers we thought we had and left us in a barren desert of material and moral destitution. How could we, a small NGO struggling to make ends meet, “touch” this misery, “make it our own” and “take practical steps to alleviate it”?
In the midst of this scenario, we met Adriana, the mother of two toddlers in a Catholic kindergarten — a child of this slum and a child of God. She was challenged by her surroundings, yet blessed by her spiritual riches. Together with Padre Jorge and so many others we met that day, we remembered the words of St. Paul: “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10, NIV). The one gem Padre Jorge possesses, and which he infused in us, is hope.
Back in our Habitat office, we still feel like the disciples facing the multitudes in Bethsaida. Our instinct is to say, “You are too many; go away!” We have nothing — neither the answers nor the resources — and yet, we have everything in our hope and faith that God will show the way. It is surely no coincidence that we should face this challenge just as we begin to think of ways to build sector impact.
Lord, in You we trust. Strengthen us this Lenten season to walk outside of our comfort zones and touch the poverty of our brothers and sisters. Help us understand that poverty hurts. Help us to be humble when confronted by the complexity of the social problems that surround us. As we approach Easter and remember the sacrifice of Your Son Jesus Christ, who not only came to us as one of us, but as one who lived in poverty, fill us with the hope of His resurrection. Help us to trust in Your guidance and Your will as we seek to find practical solutions to alleviate material poverty. Fill us with the riches of Your grace. Amen.
Click here to download all the reflections and prayers from the Habitat world during the 40 days of Lent