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Welcoming the Lord in Disguise – Life as a Catholic Worker

As I sit here and reflect over the past year that I have spent at Casa Juan Diego, the words of Scripture come to my mind: “And there was no room for them in the inn.”

How often we receive calls from the various women’s shelters: “Can you possibly take a mother and her three children as we are full and have no more room?” Or a social worker from the hospital calls and asks if we can take a mother and her new baby because there is no more room in the shelters. And, if we can, we always say, “We will find room for you.”.

Often times our doorbell rings in the wee hours of the morning. I remember such a morning when the bell rang and I went to the door and there was a mother and a father with their two small children. “Do you
have room for us? We just arrived from El Salvador.”

“Yes, we do, please come in.” I sent the father to the men’s house, reassuring him that his wife and children would be fine and that they could visit in the morning after breakfast.

I got them some blankets and made them feel comfortable in our sala de espera until morning. After breakfast, they were given a room and settled in for the day.

It’s not only that we welcome guests here to Casa Juan Diego to find refuge, but it is esssential that we also find room in our hearts, too. We are different from agencies and shelters because we are a “house of hospitality.” We never close down; not even for holidays. So as a house of hospitality, we are in the business of welcoming guests, often at odd hours. As Dorothy Day tells us, “It is Christ that we welcome.” Our guest is Christ that we welcome to our house.

“For a total Christian, the goad of duty is not needed–always prodding one to perform this or that good deed. It is not a duty to help Christ; it is a privilege. Is it likely that Martha and Mary sat back and considered that they had done all that was expected of them–is it likely that Peter’s mother-in-law grudgingly served the chicken she
had meant to keep to Sunday because she thought it was her duty? She did it gladly; she would have served ten chickens if she had had them.

If that is the way they gave hospitality to Christ, it is certain that that is the way it should still be given. Not for the sake of humanity, not because it might be Christ who stays with us, comes to see us, takes up our time. Not because these people remind us of Christ, but because they are Christ, asking us to find room for him exactly as He did at that first Christmas.”

Dorothy Day reminds us, too, that often times there is nothing else that can be done except to love and and respect them: “…we face the situation that there is nothing we can do for people except to love them. We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God–please enlarge our hearts to love each other to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.

For most of our women, it is here at Casa Juan Diego that they have experienced real love for the first time in their lives, or for the first time in a very long time.

I have been a full-time volunteer at Casa Juan Diego for one year and I have made a commitment to stay for the “long haul.” I came to Casa Juan Diego because I wanted to serve the Hispanic community, especially refugees and immigrants, and because I wanted to live out the Gospel values, especially of love and service to the poor, which is summed up in Matthew 25. I found what I was looking for at the Houston Catholic Worker houses of hospitality. At Casa Juan Diego, we offer hospitality to refugees and immigrants from Central America and Mexico and also to Hispanic battered or pregnant women.

As Catholic Workers, we wear many hats. We greet new guests, drive women and children to various appointments, help mothers fill out various forms for social services or school enrollment, take battered women to police to file reports, pick up various donations, make emergency trips to the hospital, listen to stories, give comfort, celebrate together, especially the Eucharist at our Wednesday evening liturgy in Spanish, help with chores, teach E.S.L., and the list goes on. Our day is packed with a wide range of activities from early morning till late at night.

In spite of all the hard work, I enjoy what I am doing here. At times, I think I get more back than what I give. So many times friends and relatives of guests have thanked us for being here. It is such a joy to see a family reunited after several years of separation. Battered women often arrive fearful and and terrified and after a few days you can see in their faces peace and tranquility. We offer the women the space they need and the help they need to put their lives back together again.

I enjoy the times shared with the women in listening to their stories or just having a good laugh together, playing with the children. There is always lots of love to go around. It is such a joy to see the children blossom and open up. Babies have said their first words, taken their first steps, and for one little boy there is the wonder of being
able to see clearly. A six-year-old boy came to us recently and after having an examination was diagnosed as having severe eye problems. Working with our volunteer medical help, all of his problems may eventually be corrected. We witness such miracles here at Casa Juan Diego every day.

I am happy to be part of Casa Juan Diego, and consider it a privilege to serve Christ as He comes to us in the poor.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIV, No. 9, December 1994.