"I felt like a phony." This is what one of the participants in our recent Immersion to Guatemala for Catholic Educators said to me. We had made home visits in small groups to families in Santa Ana, an extremely poor neighborhood near Esquipulas. The people there live in single-room homes pieced together from corrugated metal.
The woman that said this described how, at the end of the visit, she led a blessing in which she began with the words, "Good and gracious God..." She felt like a phony, she explained, because inside she was wondering how God can be "good and gracious" when people live in such conditions. I think that every believer that has witnessed genuine suffering has at some point asked these questions. Does God really hear the cries of the poor? One answer, expressed by Maryknoll Promoter Matt Rousso on this experience, is this: "Maybe God hears the cries of the poor by sending us here."
Our experience in Guatemala was certainly eye-opening, not only in seeing the ways in which people struggle, but also in experiencing more fully the love of God. Everywhere we went we were welcomed and left feeling like friends and family. Even in Santa Ana, where the hardship can seem overwhelming, people readily invited us into their homes. We played games with neighborhood children, who laughed and played exactly like any children we would know at home. It is hard not to see God in these moments.
Many people asked us before we left what we would "do" in Guatemala, but this was really it: we spent time with people, we built friendships, we grew in love. And out of that, we could not help but hear the cries of the poor, and wonder how we are called to answer those cries as Jesus did.