header icons

Notre Dame Student Accompanies the Poor

by Angel Valdez

Liam, a student at the University of Notre Dame.spent eight weeks at Casa Juan Diego this summer.

During my time at the men’s house of Casa Juan Diego, my family and friends often asked me to describe what I was doing or how I was feeling. This was one of the most difficult things to do because not only was each day superficially different just based on the nature of the tasks to be accomplished but so were the interactions and people that I talked with each day. Furthermore, being the only live-in volunteer in the men’s house made me kind of on edge all the time because a lot of questions and responsibilities were referred to me all throughout the day.

For the first couple of weeks, I kind of felt like I was separate from the men’s house, as if I was just there to get work done and then retreat into my room and hope I wouldn’t be bothered until the next day. After a few weeks, however, I felt so welcomed and integrated into the community that I would often sit with the men whenever I had the opportunity to just chat and share stories, opinions about food and movies, and just to be together. This transition did not happen overnight, however. You see, I am from Georgia, and although I had never bought into the media’s portrayal of immigrants as these “dangerous” and “undesirable” people, I must admit that when I first arrived at Casa and met the men, I was nervous. Our outward appearances were wildly different, and I thought to myself things like, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into? I can’t live with these men.” This is one of my most shameful moments in my life: automatically labeling the men living at Casa as the other. As I got to know everyone, however, I realized that the men at Casa are just people like me: we could all be pleasant at times, irritable at others, quiet, talkative, frustrated, etc.

As Stephen Pope writes, “To accompany means not only to walk with someone but also to encounter that person and become his or her companion” (A Step Along the Way 189). While I cannot say that I have experienced even a fraction of the struggle that some of the men have faced in their lives, I will say that all of us at the men’s house shared in our community together. We were each provided with a room, a space where we could feel safe. We waited in waiting rooms and hospitals together where we shared life stories with each other, good times and bad.

by Angel Valdez

We ate the same meals together, often mostly beans and rice, and talked about our hopes and dreams and encouraged each other, declaring that no matter what we needed to continue “saliendo adelante.”

The most important lesson that I have learned from my experiences at Casa, my personal reflections, and the readings provided by my university’s Summer Service Learning Program is that no matter how we may fail or think we may have failed in our lives, God wants us to be with Him and each other. We know this to be true because God became man as Jesus Christ in the Incarnation which we celebrate during this upcoming Advent season. I know that I may have failed and only made the most minor of differences during my time at Casa, but as Bill Arlow says, “It is better to fail in a cause that will finally succeed than to succeed in a cause that will finally fail” (Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen, Living without Enemies 46).So, I may take comfort because I know Casa’s cause will finally succeed because Casa strives towards being with everyone here, just as God is being with us forevermore.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 1, October-December 2018.