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 | By Anabella Estrada, Executive Assistant to Bishop Cantú

It is the Poor Who Will Save Us

Reflection on the Chancery Office Lenten Day of Service at St. John Vianney Parish

"I'm here at the market." One of the customers, whom I will call Roberto, spoke these words into his phone to someone, possibly one of his family members, awaiting his return with the food Roberto was lined up to receive on a very rainy Lenten day of service for chancery employees.

That day I would learn that it was Roberto's first time at the weekly St. John Vianney Parish food distribution. Another gentleman had accompanied him, both in the same situation. As I took their basic information, I realized they lacked knowledge about all the aid available through the Church and Catholic Charities. They told me they needed other services such as legal, housing and rental assistance, and healthcare; in other words, they needed access to necessities to survive.

After registering them, we discussed our shared Catholic faith and other Church and community resources. Although I tried to give them the best information possible, I'm sure my words fell short. Their needs were so immense; how could anything I offered, or the Church offered, or the county offered, sufficiently fill their lack of basic needs in good time?

Like several parishes in the diocese, St. John Vianney Parish facilitates food distribution for Catholic Charities in collaboration with St. Vincent de Paul and Second Harvest Bank Food. That was the so-called "market "where I met Roberto and his friend. From that experience, it was evident that desperate families in today's economy frequently place their faith and hope in assistance programs like the one at which the chancery staff volunteered that afternoon.

 During these last years, I have struggled to define poverty and precisely define whom we are talking about when we discuss people experiencing poverty. I have learned that being hungry means more than just needing food. It means that you have exhausted your resources for basic needs.

During our day of service, Chancery volunteers served almost eight hundred families in two hours. Since Lent, the average number of those served at St. John Vianney has increased to 950 families weekly. The miraculous thing about the parish distribution is that everyone we served that day received something. Jesus performed a miracle during our service day by taking food donations and making sure the people were fed, like in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves in the gospel of Matthew.

I am left wondering how we can encounter and imitate   the Jesus of the hungry and thirsty beyond meeting physical needs. This same Jesus breaks Himself into a piece of bread and gives Himself into a cup of wine in the Eucharist to feed my spiritual hunger. How can we imitate this Eucharistic reality in our spiritual lives? Roberto not only sought physical but spiritual as well. As a lifelong Catholic, he asked about the Holy Week services because he knew Easter was approaching.

He shared, "I grew up Catholic, attending mass and celebrating the Via Crucis or Way of the Cross of Jesus." It struck me that, despite all of the adversity he currently faces, his smile and his bright eyes revealed a true also hunger for the Lord. He and the families we served are already walking their own Via Cruces, or the Way of the Cross. He felt vulnerable, but it seemed to me that his happiness was greater than his afflictions. I invited both Roberto and his friend to worship at St. John Vianney.

Like the many other people at the market, Roberto presented me with an opportunity for the poignant encounter with Jesus. I have come to understand, based on that encounter, that the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, is not going to save the poor so much as it is the poor who will save us if only we allow ourselves to be conquered by the divine love of Jesus with them, for them and for ourselves. Thank you, Jesus, for finding me and showing me your Love once again!

It is the Poor Who Will Save Us 2
Anabella Estrada, Executive Assistant to Bishop Cantú