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Feeding the Hungry and Caring for the Sick at Casa Juan Diego

It was the last day of the month. We knew it was going to be a busy morning, but it exceeded our expectations.

We have all gotten to know the persons whom we have been helping for some time now who are very sick or have injuries that make it impossible for them to work. Those who can travel in their wheel chairs, or the spouses of those who are ill, come in to Casa Juan Diego when it is time to pay the rent and to receive food for the month. And there are always some new ones.

Fortunately, this morning several Catholic Workers were on hand to help us. Dawn, Lenore, Bridget, and Sr. Angelica were busy all morning putting together bags of groceries and finding the correct sizes of adult diapers for the ill. We tailor the food as much as we can for special needs. We were glad to have on hand, in addition to rice and beans and pasta, fresh celery, lettuce from our garden, apples and potatoes and onions, maseca recently bagged in gallon zip-lock bags, as well as canned tuna and canned vegetables. The brown rice and pasta were reserved for several diabetics who are very ill. Jose has limited use of his hands and can only use pull-top cans and produce easy to prepare to supplement rice and beans. For those with Parkinsons, we added coffee and some frozen blueberries we had on hand.

In the rush of preparing everything, including checks for the rent, we tried to take a little time to speak to each person or family. Bernabé has bed sores worsened by being in a wheel chair all the time and having a bad mattress. We hoped that the new mattress we helped him obtain several months ago was helping. One of the Parkinson’s patients wept as we told of falling as he tried to come to Casa Juan Diego, unable to get up off the sidewalk. People walked past him, ignoring him. One woman told him he was faking. Then he told us he had recently been approved for MetroLift, but he thought it could not bring him to Casa  Juan Diego, only to the hospital for appointments. We assured him that it would bring him here more safely.

We were glad we had been able to go to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription medicine yesterday. When Cesar came to pick up his pain medicine the day before, he had wept because it was not here yet. Today he received it.

One patient who is dying of liver cancer is doing a little bit better after treatment. Mr. Garcia cares for his son day and night and cannot cook very well. We try to find some things he can prepare easily His adult son was working on a car when the jack slipped and he didn’t receive enough oxygen for a while. Now he is bedridden and can only communicate a little by groaning. A young couple with two little children told their recent story. The father of the family was working on a roof and fell. He is still unable to work after several surgeries. The young mother had an infection after the birth of the second baby. It got out of hand and she has just been in the hospital for twelve days while her husband cared for the two little ones as best he could, cooking for them and visiting her in the hospital.

It is not easy to stop to relate to each one while so many others are waiting for help. Someone asked us, don’t you feel good to be helping all these people? Mark replied, as he has often done in the past, “We feel tired.”

We do believe, with the eyes of faith, that it is Jesus himself whom we are helping in the poor when we do the Works of Mercy. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the wounds that people pull up their shirts or their pant legs to show us are the wounds of Jesus.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXV, No. 3, June-August 2014.