A few years ago, I was traveling by bus from Port-au-Prince, Haiti to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I saw billboard after billboard for a Dominican presidential candidate claiming that he was “El Presidente de los Pobres” (President of the Poor). I didn’t know much about this man, but I wondered if he truly did lift up the interests of those living in poverty as a priority. Then I started to ponder, “Who, really, is the President of the Poor? Who, truly, has shown us a Way out of no way? Who is the Prince of Peace, who came to live and work among us—indeed, to become one of us—so he could demonstrate a new way of living with compassion and working for justice for all?”
As Dominicans were preparing for their next round of presidential elections that winter, I recall the flurry of activity and high hopes coupled with consternation that accompanied their preparations. I particularly remember walking down one of the main streets in the beach resort town of Boca Chica, where tourists lounge outside in street cafes, bronzed bodies having just come in from a day at the beach. The smell of fresh seafood wafts through the air. Haitian paintings adorn both sides of the street and there are souvenir shops full of trinkets you don’t really need, but you get sucked into the shops because of the owner’s persistence and charm. There are children playing everywhere, and I especially notice quite a number of little boys with wooden boxes and brushes. After a double take, I realize that the boys weren’t “playing” but shining shoes. Awfully young to be doing that, I thought, and walked on by.
I walked further down the street searching for the Caminante Center. Caminante is one of our Disciples and ecumenical partner organizations in the Dominican Republic, founded by a Catholic nun with a heart for reaching out to street children and those caught in the sexual exploitation of the resort town of Boca Chica. Entering the building, I was greeted by the Caminante staff and offered an incredible meal of rice and beans and avocado. As I savored every bite of my food, I listened to the staff describe the situations they dealt with on a daily basis—abject poverty, violence, and hopelessness. Just a few minutes later, in came the shoe-shine boys: 8, 9 and 10 year-old boys with their wooden boxes and brushes. Beautiful, innocent, loving, carefree boys. Or so they should have been. The stories of violence and poverty and gangs and child labor…they were talking about those boys I had walked by on the main drag.
How long had it taken for Sister Denisse, the founding director of Caminante, to prepare the way for this life-saving work among street children to be done? Surely the shoe-shine boys did not know to come to the safe haven that is the educational, spiritual, and recreational center they now call home until someone had prepared, promoted, and prompted them to come.
Advent is waiting, as I depicted last week, but it is most certainly not a passive waiting. It is an active season of preparation. It is a time set apart from the rest of our liturgical year and spiritual lives where we prepare the way for the Advent—which literally means, the “Coming”—of our Lord. Without the engaged, active, intentional preparations of so many of our partner organizations across the globe, including Caminante, Week of Compassion simply would not have a way to respond to the needs of so many. We make a difference, thanks to your gifts and trust, because of the painstaking preparations of our sisters and brothers in places of poverty and injustice.
They are those who know, intimately, who the President of the Poor truly is. And it is Him, our Prince of Peace Jesus Christ our Lord, for whom we now prepare the way—together.