Deacon Koop at Casa de Hogar

September 29, 2011

Mission Venezuela

Dear Friends,

One of my main assignments this summer is to visit the various barrios—the different neighborhoods that make up the parish of Jesucristo Resucitado—for catechesis, prayer meetings, Bible studies, etc. each night of the week. On these nights, I get in the truck, say a quick prayer, and drive off to one or another of the barrios. Some of the highlights have included bringing the Blessed Sacrament to the barrio chapels during the week of the Feast of Corpus Christi (it really doesn’t get any better than chauffeuring Jesus around in a Chevy Silverado as He graces the most troubled streets of San Felix with His Eucharistic presence), and guiding the various groups of parishioners through a workbook on how to understand and defend their Catholic faith. It is beautiful to see how each barrio community has its own particular character, and it really is a joy to act, in some small way, as a spiritual father to each of these little families of faith.

Speaking of spiritual fatherhood, what a beautiful privilege it has been over these last few weeks to be able to spend some time with the boys of the Casa de Hogar (literally ‘House of Home’) orphanage. This is an orphanage run by the Salesian Order for street boys who have been abandoned or otherwise neglected, located near our parish church. The house is under the charge of Maria, a single woman who has dedicated her life to serving the boys as a spiritual mother and caretaker. About once or twice a week, I’m able to walk over to the house and see what everyone is up to—and with eleven boys in what is effectively a three-bedroom house, it is certainly never boring. In the mornings the boys have school, in-house tutoring, and trips to the psychologist or local juvenile delinquency officer, but in the afternoons it’s all free time. We’ve been able to play soccer, marbles, board games, watch movies, and otherwise just have fun together in a healthy way.

What amazes me—and this really is a miracle of grace—is just how open, trusting, and innocent the boys are, especially given the troubled backgrounds of many of them. They treat each other as brothers—with all that entails—with the older boys looking after the younger ones. Local volunteers come to cook the mid-day meal, but in the evenings the boys cook for and clean up after one another. They are incredibly friendly with me, and the younger ones especially seem fascinated by even the smallest details of my clerical garb, etc. One thing is for sure: they never tire of asking me how to say their names in English!

On many evenings, Maria organizes some ongoing faith formation for the boys, in which she has graciously allowed me to participate. One evening I used a video of the story of David and Goliath to talk about true and false masculinity. On another evening, the boys were visited by two Salesian priests (missionaries from Italy), and after we talked about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the boys were able to go to Confession individually.

What strikes me so forcibly about the Casa de Hogar is the tangible presence there of the Holy Spirit. The house is filled with so much love, peace, joy, light, and openness, and I really have begun to see in a tangible way how God Himself is truly the “father of the orphan,” who “gives the desolate a home to dwell in” (Ps. 68:5-6). After all that these boys have been through, God in His mercy has prepared for them a sanctuary, a place of safety and abundant blessing. How many of the other children in this area who have parents are given the kind of personal care, or the depth of one-on-one religious instruction, that these boys receive? How many are able to have personal interaction with priests, religious, and holy lay people on a daily basis? For that matter, how many of their own parents, if they had been present in the lives of these boys, could have possibly raised them with the depth of love, wisdom and grace that Maria does? Having lost their natural families, these boys have now won an even greater spiritual family, so that in them is manifest the great mercy of God, who “raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people” (Ps. 113:7-8).

As always, friends, I ask for your prayers for all the various people and ministries I have shared about here, and for the whole parish of Jesucristo Resucitado. May God bless you all!

In Jesus Christ Our Risen Lord,

Deacon Evan

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