Walking alongside of people in the midst of joys and horrendous tragedies are markers of what it means to be a pastor. In the midst of such experiences, over the years, a variety of events stand out for me as transforming and life changing. The memory of one has come flooding back into my mind the last few days, along with tears and a hurting heart.
In my last parish and Diocese, I along with others came to know a seven year old girl named Flor and her mother Rosa. We got to know them through mission work. Due to profound poverty and oppression, Flor’s case of Rickets was one of the worst US physicians had ever witnessed. Through hard work, fundraising, governmental paperwork, and prayer, Rosa and her mother were brought to the US to the community of which I was a part.
Surgeons and medical care providers along with a major medical center donated services and completed rounds of excruciatingly painful corrective surgery to treat Flor’s deformities. It was agonizing not only for Flor, but for her mother and those of us who cared for them. But through God’s grace and amazing human beings, Flor was healed.
After a year or so, Rosa asked if I would baptize Flor. In one of the most moving and Spirit filled services, I had the astonishing privilege of baptizing Flor by the side of a gorgeous lake. It was at that moment I was reminded that we are all children of God, are bearers of the Holy, and that love is the only standard by which we should conduct ourselves whenever we are in the presence of another human being. Flor and Rosa taught me what love means and that what God cares most about is love as God is love (1 John 4).
A variety of Central and South American theologians and clergy have understood this truth. Here is what a few of them have said.
The eternal destiny of human beings will be measured by how much or how little solidarity we have displayed with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. In the end we will be judged in terms of love. Leonardo Boff (Brazil).
Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Gustavo Gutierrez. (Peru).
A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that? Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor,of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel,of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, “You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.” It is to say exactly the opposite, “You are valuable.” Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
And so, to Flor and her mother Rosa along with all others from stricken El Salvador, I say, “You are valuable to me and you have taught me much about love and what it means to follow Jesus.”