Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Pastor (11/30/06)
TITLE: Two Worlds, One Neighborhood
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Father Juan always had a hard time prepping for his weekly mass at Saint Bridget’s. It was just up the road, but in the next town – a world away from his parish.
Saint Susanna’s was small and its people poor, but his masses there were vibrant. The music was rousing and everyone participated -- loudly.
Sometimes Father Juan thought that the worse off people were the more faithful they were.
The new church built by Saint Bridget’s parish was beautiful, but it was so quiet. Sometimes Father Juan spoke in a whisper. Sometimes he almost yelled -- to wake them up. He’d tried the old, “I can’t hear you…” to get them to respond louder. And it worked, for a time, but then they’d go back to their normal passivity.
So one week he brought his teen choir with him. The people were impressed with the group’s exuberance, but he knew it wasn’t their style.
Another week he had Miguel talk about going straight, about finding Jesus. The people at Saint Bridget’s were impressed with Miguel’s turn-around, too. But Father knew they were relieved that he’d go home to the city. They wouldn’t want him going back to his evil ways in their neighborhood.
Father Juan’s next sermon was his yearly chance to convince the rich people at Saint Bridget’s, and the regular folk too, to give to their neighbors who were so much less fortunate.
They didn’t really want to see what he saw every day, but he had to share some of it with them. Could he reach them (and their deep pockets) that way? He’d scheduled his talk for December, when people are in a more giving mood and perhaps looking for a tax write-off.
Father Juan began his sermon by telling them about Enrique, one of the many kids helped by Saint Susanna’s. “Enrique lives with his abuela. His father was killed in a gang fight. His mother is in rehab for drug addiction, again. His two younger brothers are in foster care. Enrique’s elderly grandmother just couldn’t handle them all. And she can’t work. Taking care of Enrique is a full-time job -- he’s blind and deaf. But his spirit…”
Next Father Juan told a bit of Maria’s story. “When I first met Maria she was running drugs and living under the South Street Bridge, like a bag lady. But she was just fourteen. But this was an improvement from her years as a prostitute. -- Only God could have helped her escape that life. But Maria was an easy target for the drug dealers...”
Finally he told them about little Carlos. “Twelve-year-old Carlos was caught stealing one time too many. He was almost sent off to the House of Corrections. Did he steal cars of jewelry? No, he stole food to support his five younger brothers and sisters.”
“Do you know that there are only so many leftovers in even the most fruitful dumpsters (the ones by the restaurants, the ones Carlos had to fight to get at)? Carlos simply couldn’t scrounge up enough to feed his large family. They’ve never met their fathers. (Each child has a different father.) And their mother overdosed six months ago.”
“Where are these children now?” continued Father Juan.
“Saint Susanna’s helps Enrique and his abuela with food, heating oil, and transportation and aids at the church school. Of course we’ve waived tuition for Enrique. And we’re raising money to get some of his hearing restored with a cochlear implant.”
“We found Maria a room at Hope House, a home for single mothers. She’s pregnant now; the result of rape. But she’s working towards her GED diploma and hopes to attend hair-dressing school next year. With the support and assistance she gets at Hope House, she can keep her baby.”
“As for Carlos, I myself testified on his behalf. Fortunately, he didn’t have to do time. We’re currently trying to find a home for the children, preferably all together. If you can help in this matter, please see me after mass. The children now attend our school, free of charge, of course. Yes, these things take money…”
After mass Father Juan found himself holding an over-flowing basket of donations.
A couple who always sat in the front pew approached him. The husband spoke, “About those six children…”
Thank you Lord! prayed Father Juan.
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