Br. Jose Antony Arackal, SCJ, is one of two Indian scholastics studying at the international theology house, in Caracas, Venezuela. Venezuela is a country currently suffering from significant economic, social and political instability. It is with the backdrop of such crises that Br. Jose shares the following reflection:
It was a Friday, just a few weeks ago. I went for the evening parish Mass at 6:00. It coincided with charity work for people on the street, work done precisely because of the current situation in the country. My motive is not to make any judgment on the political system of the country, rather I just want to describe what happened to me on this particular day; a personal experience.
I was in the church 20 minutes before the celebration and made use of the time by greeting people; slowly this took me outside of the church. There I saw a multitude of people. To my surprise, it was neither a procession nor had they come for Mass, but they were out there looking for their basic necessities. Those tiresome faces told the whole story. Each face had a story to tell about the numbers of meals they had not eaten. Their only need at that moment was a spoon of anything that would satisfy their hunger. There were young and old as well as little ones with their moms. Each week the number of people continues to increase said Fr. Wilfred Corniel, SCJ, the parish priest. They come from far and wide for the food.
I saw volunteers running up and down, organizing the food. The people entering the church for the celebration paused, looked and passed by. I saw some of them even holding their noses. I confess that the air smelt different. The people’s voices did not match anything like the church choir. Their voice was of a real need born of hunger.
I saw many small boxes of food on a table in a little room at the entrance of the church that were contributed by many generous hearts. A volunteer was counting those boxes. I stood near him and wondered how many were there. I asked him “is it sufficient for all?”
“Jesus always provides for us” he responded with a smile.
I replied “Amen” affirming with conviction. But I am sure that he did not hear what was said because of the noise of the people asking for food. I moved on but then abruptly turned around when I felt somebody pulling on my finger. “Who is that?” I thought. I looked down and found a little girl with a shabby dress smiling, ¿Cuándo vamos a comer? (When are we gonna eat?) It felt like a punch to my face.
Hey! Wake up! All this happened in a fraction of a minute. My heart melted looking at her starving face. Her hands were dirty. Perhaps she had gone to search for food in the dump, I thought. It is a common scene now on the streets: people searching for scraps in the dumps. I bent down and started a conversation with her and she told me that, no he comido nada hoy. (I have eaten nothing today). I took her to the volunteers and they gave her a box. I could see her little shining face with her missing tooth smile.
I hold that image, that smile, dear in my heart.
“Lord, when did we see you hungry?” (Mt 25; 37). Yes, Jesus provides us always an opportunity to see His face in others… in a smile and in an innocent hand.