As you make your way through the back of the basilica towards El Cristo Negro, you pass a number of images and statues. One statue, encased in glass, shows Jesus crawling on his hands and knees, wounded and bleeding. The glass that surrounds El Cristo Negro itself is smudged with the hand prints of those that reach out to be closer to the suffering Christ - many even hold their babies up to the glass.
For many people across the globe, the suffering of Christ is central to their every day reality. The crucifixion speaks to how God shares their burdens, and does so that they might find comfort and salvation. When I consider many of the people that I met in Guatemala, I think about where I as a US citizen and global citizen of means fit into the Good Friday story. Am I like Christ, who suffers for God's people? Am I like Peter, who denies him? Pilate, who condemns him? Or even like Judas, who betrays him?
As a Maryknoll Mission Educator, one of the questions that I often need to address is, "Why do you focus on the needs of people across the globe when their is so much need here in the US?" As someone that has worked with people in need in the US, answering that question has been part of my own personal journey, as well. All Christians know on some level that God calls us to be in relationship with our neighbors, and that our "neighbors" are actually all people, be they in our own community or half a world away. But, as I have seen in places like Guatemala, the answer to the above question can be even more difficult and challenging.
The fact of the matter is that we are not only called to be in relationship with our brothers and sisters around the world, especially those most in need. The truth is that we already are in relationship with them, and in many cases the nature of this relationship does not reflect Gospel values. Many US citizens are unaware, for instance, that the US Government intervened to suppress a labor and indigenous rights movement that spawned a civil war in Guatemala that lasted until the mid-1990s. It did so on behalf of US fruit companies with a vested interest in these laborers not being treated fairly.
Many of us also do not know that by subsidizing our own corn industry, we put the Guatemalan corn industry out of business. (Corn is a staple of the Guatemalan diet, and with global corn prices now on the rise, many Guatemalans cannot afford imported corn and it is no longer grown on a large scale locally. The average Guatemalan spends 2/3 of her income on food.) Many do not know that much of the farmland in Guatemala is owned by US and Canadian palm olive oil, coffee, and fruit companies. As a result, despite a high GDP, Guatemala has the second highest level of income inequality in Central and South America.
There are other examples of how our relationship with Guatemalans - as well as many other people around the world - is harmful and selfish. If we truly believe Christ's words that he is present in the faces of those in need, then we need to ask ourselves who we are in his story. One of the paths of Christian mission outlined by Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio is reconciliation. In many cases, we are called to reconcile relationships that we may not even know existed. As we celebrate the new life of the Resurrection this Easter, let us recognize that every relationship, every mistake, every harmful or neglectful act, is part of the story of again finding, serving, and being Christ in the world.
Who will you be in the Good Friday story?