This summer, I have many assignments. One assignment is to work at the Vocation Office at the Diocese to promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Another assignment is to work at the Opportunity Center, a shelter for homeless people here in El Paso. What do I do there?
First and foremost, the experience is meant for me to be able to know the unfortunate situation of many people who are homeless. In order to understand what challenges they face every day, I have to experience part of their daily life by simply being present.
Once Sergio (another seminarian) and I arrive at the shelter, we usually meet with Dorothy, who is the shelter’s Executive Director and our supervisor. Sometimes other students who do social work join us as well. We all go to a big room in which the homeless get together to talk, to watch TV, to have a cigarette or to rest a bit from the heat out on the streets. Next, we ask them, “Is there anybody who needs social services?” and those in need come to us. After that, we interview them one on one in an office. We want to know their stories and their particular situation in order to understand how we can help them.
I have learned so much through these interviews. Before, I used to ask myself, “How could it be possible to have homeless people in the United States?” I used to think that homeless people are experiencing this situation because of things like drug abuse. However, after interviewing them, I realized that anybody can be homeless. Some of the people I interviewed were once successful people, but suddenly became sick. Some are homeless because of mental issues, some because they lost their purpose in life, others because of their immigration status, and so on. They did not choose to be homeless.
Thank God there is always somebody who is willing to help, and an example of this is Dorothy. She and her family have dedicated their lives to help homeless people here in El Paso. The way she treats people struck me; she looks at them into their eyes, makes them feel important, and always gives them words of hope. It is amazing. I remember a case in which, after she talked with a person, his eyes were shiny when he heard words of consolation and hope for a better future. That clearly showed me that they do not need just material stuff, but they need also spiritual support, a word of motivation and consolation in their difficulties, just as every human being does.
There are many ways in which people’s lives can turn around and end up in an unwanted way, but there are also sensitive people who understand human suffering and try to help them in their trials of life. I personally think that people like Dorothy dedicate their life to this work of mercy because they understand that all of us are actually homeless. We are all in a journey walking towards the House of Our Father; that is our real home.