Walking with the People by Fr. Gregory Boquet, OSB
During a Mission Immersion program to Guatemala I went with our group to visit what was referred to as “The Goekler House.” It is a put-together house that was founded by Fr. Thomas Goekler, a Maryknoll Priest who died on Thanksgiving Day a couple of years ago. The formal name of the house is Caminando Por La Paz – Walking For Peace. The neighborhood surrounding Caminando Por La Paz con- sists of many families that belong to one or other of the gangs in the city. Odell, one of the young people who works at the house, describes it as “a small program located in the most marginalized barrio of Guatemala City. We function in two basic areas. (1) We provide educational opportunities to the children of our neighborhood. (2) We function as a Catholic Worker House dedicated to improving life in this one small corner of the world.”
In a conversation with Odell he shared with me that he had mar- ried Nicole (who is from the United States) a couple of years ago. He has a child from a previous marriage and Nicole and he have a small baby. Though their basic needs are met from some donations that come into the house, they do not get a salary. I told him, “Odell, you really inspire me. You and Nicole could have a better life elsewhere – you have a good education; you don’t have to live here with so little, in a neighborhood so compromised.”Odell looked down a bit and said quietly – “Fr. Gregory, I realize that some people do what we are doing and get paid for it. Even some priests do this kind of work - but they don’t live with the people in their neighborhood. I think about the Gospel story where people asked Jesus, ‘When did we see you hungry and not give you to eat? When did we see you naked and did not clothe you?’ When you live in people’s neighborhood you see His presence – you see Him hungry and naked and thirsty...You might think our house is poor, but we are really better off than many of our neighbors.”
I asked Nicole “Don’t you want something else for you and your children?” She shrugged her shoulders and said simply– “I love Odell; he has a passion and a dedication for what he is doing. Fr. Tom helped him in Honduras to get off of the street, now he wants to do what he can for others who are like he was. I knew if I wanted to be with Odell I would have to live and work where he wanted to be.”
I go with seminarians every January to Esquipulas, a town about five hours from Guatemala City. We have been renting a house there, in a rather nice neighborhood - very close to the center of the town. But now a number of factors are coming together in which we are being asked to move to Santa Ana, a really poor neighborhood on the very outskirts of Esquipulas. This conversation with Odell and Nicole is making me ask myself, “Am I willing, even if for a short time each year, to walk with the people? Am I willing to immerse myself and my seminarians in their reality? I remember what Pope Francis said – ‘we must be a church of the poor and be with the poor.’” This young couple helped me to understand what our Pope is saying.
Fr. Gregory Boquet, O.S.B.
St. Joseph Seminary Rector St. Benedict, Louisiana