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Combating Exploitation and Poverty

Fr. Chris Saenz, Director

From the Director

By Fr. Chris Saenz

I participated in a Holy Land tour in October 2022 with two parishes from Nebraska. It was a gift from my parents who also went on the tour. I had never been to the Holy Land and eagerly looked forward to visiting places that I read and studied about for many years. The only factor that my hindered my experience was the advanced arthritis in both knees. My legs were not as strong as I was when I was young. Having no cartilage, I could not run or jump. For preventative measures, I bought a cane and used leg braces to reduce stress on the knees. Also, I took a big bottle of Extra Strength Tylenol arthritis pain tablets. I constantly prayed that my knees wouldn’t give out during my tour.

Over the course of several days, I was amazed how much I was able to do with all the preventative aids I had. We often walked four to six miles a day. At the end of the day, as I took off the braces, my legs were tired, but I was not in great pain. I was making the journey and enjoyed such places as the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Ceasarea Philippi, Masada, the Dead Sea, and other Biblical sights. However, I was concerned about walking the Ways of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) in Jerusalem. It was an uphill walk to the sight of the Cruxification. The night before, I prayed to the Lord to give me strength so my knees would not give out. Going uphill was a major task, and I truly wished to arrive to the sight of the greatest moment of our tour.

The next day, in order to avoid crowds, we arrived at the base of the Via Dolorosa at five in the morning. We began our trek up, stopping at various stations. As time went on, my legs begin to feel the climb. I felt the knees trembling and getting weaker. I recalled Jesus’ words: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30) Even as I child, I didn’t find much comfort in these words when I thought of Jesus’ yoke, the Cross! How is that easy! How is that light! And, now as I struggled to walk, I felt justified in my earlier thoughts about this passage. I wondered if I was going to make it.

Suddenly, a person entered into my mind. Juana, a migrant whom I knew in Chile, who had contacted me before I left to the Holy Land. She had a daughter who struggled with drug addiction and bad relationships with men. The daughter had a little boy whom Juana loved with all her heart. Unfortunately, the grandchild was in danger of being placed in foster care due to the mother’s inability to adequately care for him. Juana decided to return to her native land and wanted to take the child with her. However, she could not unless the daughter signed a release form. Juana argued with her daughter who threatened to never let her child go. In fact, the daughter threatened Juana with not ever seeing the child again. Juana was at her wits end and called me asking for prayers.

As I climbed, I thought about Juana and her family. I could hear her crying in desperation over the phone. I began to pray for them and the situation. I became so focused on Juana and her family, that without knowing it, I had reached the top of Golgotha, the place of the Cruxification. Yes, I was tired but with no real pain. I made it because I refocused my efforts from myself to others. We all suffer from various ailments either it be physical, mental, or spiritual. Yet, it doesn’t impede us to continue to reach out and help others. Jesus gives us the highest example. His Cruxification was not for himself but for us, so we don’t have to suffer. In his weakest moment, he reached out to save others. Today, we are invited to accompany those who suffer in the world with whatever means we have available to us. We may not have much, or may be weak ourselves, but someone out there needs us. And, by the Lord’s grace, we can pick up that yoke and carry it through. We are to reduce suffering, not add to it.

Final note: Juana’s situation improved. The daughter signed the release forms and Juana brought her grandchild back to their native country. Now the entire family is reunited and is doing much better. I would like to think that my contribution was listening to Juana when no else did, providing some much-needed encouragement, and praying for her situation. In the end, it was all God’s grace.