When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs.  The Christ who lives in our own poverty recognises the Christ who lives in other people’s.   Just as we are inclined to ignore our own poverty, we are inclined to ignore others’.  We prefer not to see people who are destitute, we do not like to look at people who are deformed or disabled, we avoid talking about people’s pains and sorrows, we stay away from brokenness, helplessness, and neediness.

     By this avoidance we might lose touch with the people through whom God is manifested to us.  But when we have discovered God in our own poverty, we will lose our fear of the poor and go to them to meet God.

Henri Nouwen

Two days ago, I circulated this quote to a group of friends. We had been discussing getting involved with homeless and very poor folks. Some of us felt strongly that we should only deal people of our own kind, people with a certain amount of means. Dealing with homeless or very poor people would be too much of a challenge.

Yesterday morning, Paul and I returned to viejo San Juan where we lived for many years and worked alongside homeless and drug-addicts at Las Duchas, in La Perla. We regularly come across ‘participants’ whom we have known and who are still around. We also notice new ‘clients’ but we are only passing through and rarely take the time to get to know them the way we did before.

Walking up from the parking lot of Doña Fela, we crossed Pedro, lost in his thoughts, miles away from where he was. We hailed him and exchanged a few words, but he obviously was on a quest and we walked on.

At the next intersection, in his wheelchair, talking with a man from the electrical company standing by the big white company truck, was Jorge, whom we have known as long as we have lived in viejo San Juan. His beard has gone grayer and longer (he must be twenty years younger than we are). He has grown thinner. He was the second person to take a shower that October morning in 2001, right after Padre Jimmy, the pastor of San Francisco church then, had taken his own. Since that day, thousands of showers have been taken at Las Duchas, and scores of folks have died, of an overdose, of drug abuse, having been killed by a human hand or an illness. But Jorge hangs in there. It is a miracle that he has not lost a leg, or both; he has been shooting heroin for as long as I have known him. I have helped the doctor clean his ulcers. We have thought several times that he was going to die. But he hasn’t.

He had his toothless smile when he saw us. We stopped for a few moments, joked with him and the electricity worker. A young man appeared of nowhere with a small plastic bag filled with clean clothes: he handed it to Jorge. The electricity truck had blocked the street for some repairs, so we could have spent more time with Jorge. We could have asked him how he was doing, or if we could help him get some breakfast. But I fled. I could not cope with the abyss of needs I saw in him. I fled, knowing right away that I was fleeing. Jesus would have stayed with Jorge. Jesus stays with me — always.

At the end of the morning, time came to return to the parking lot. On the small plaza facing Starbucks, we came across Wilfredo, an old blind man, bent forward at the waist, jiggling a few coins in his paper cup to attract the attention of passers-by. I walked up to him, gave him something, and told him who I was, where we had met (Las Duchas, of course). This is when he told me, Dios te bendiga. Godde bless you.

Each time someone from the street blesses me, I feel it is Jesus himself saying it to me, because He knows I know that the beggar and I are the same and He loves us both for it.

Next time I go back to viejo San Juan, I will not flee when I meet Jorge. I will give him the time that Godde would give me, and when I leave him, it will be my turn to tell him, Dios te bendiga, because I am certainly a beggar too.

In His name.

Art: On the Run, Tracey Chan. Found here.