Encountering God on the street

Photo: Fr Erl Dylan J. Tabaco  SSC

Photo: Fr Erl Dylan J. Tabaco  SSC

One of the most unforgettable experiences that I had while I was still in the seminary formation was my pilgrimage, an integral part of the spiritual year program. It is a 160-kilometre walk crossing the borders of three provinces. I and my two companions spent 5 days walking under unpredictable weather which made the journey more challenging. We had no food on the journey and relied on the providence of the locals that we met on our way.

That experience helped me deepen my vocation as a missionary. I felt the struggles of those who have less in life, not knowing if they could still survive for another day with a starving stomach and no place to stay.

I was brought back to that experience recently when I encountered some Venezuelan migrants who are arriving in Lima. I met a lot of them in the parish of “Santos Archangeles” in Huandoy where a significant number of them work on the streets, washing car windows, selling candies and doing some menial jobs. The threat of COVID19 made their and their loved one's life harder and their health riskier. They are in a situation which is unimaginable for health protocols to be applied.

Hunger and distressed living condition is a reality that they have to face each day which is their immediate concern than the threat of the virus. Left with no options, they have to work hard in order to survive. They have children to feed and daily expenses to wrestle with. To start a new life here in Peru is not easy as there is no certainty of what lies ahead.

With the help of generous individuals who long to accompany those who are in need, we were able to distribute some goods for them enough to cater to their basic needs.

On my way home after the distribution, I was caught off guard when I met a young Venezuelan father, together with his daughter, sitting beside the main entrance of the convenience store. He was cold and starving. I saw in his eyes how desperate he was to have something for his 2-year-old daughter.

As I got closer to him, he called me “Tsino, ” (a term that they used for people living in the Orient) and he asked something for his daughter. I noticed that selling biscuits is his main source of income as he offered it to me, hoping to buy a can of milk before the night ends. I spent ample time with him as he was sharing his whole journey since they left Venezuela until they arrived in Lima.

They were walking for almost one-month from Venezuela, traversing the Panamericana Highway, waiting sleepless nights at the border before they finally arrived in Lima. They have nothing left except their faith in God's providence. No matter how tough the going, their journey was an experience of God´s faithfulness.

Though at times they could hardly have a meal for a day, there is someone who gave them something to eat. He became emotional as he was sharing how difficult it was for them to decide to leave their loved ones behind in Venezuela. They took the risk to find their luck away from home with no idea what will their life be in Perú.

Photo: Fr Erl Dylan J. Tabaco  SSC

Photo: Fr Erl Dylan J. Tabaco  SSC

At the end of our conversation, he told me that “Life is difficult but beautiful,” as he smiled at me. It is a very powerful statement hearing from someone who went through a lot but never succumbed to hopelessness. There is still a reason to embrace the beauty of life amidst all the adversities. That moment made a deep impact on me as I recalled exactly those stories in the Gospel which highlights the faith and gratitude of those who are marginalized in Jewish society.

There are many things that I've learned from the sacrifice of Venezuelan brethren whom I met on the way. At times our prejudices block us to relate to them on a deeper level, but if we hear their own story, we will discover how God uses their experience to inspire others. If there is one good thing that happened to me amidst this pandemic, it would be my personal encounter with our Venezuelan brethren whose plight allowed me to be more compassionate as it provides me doors of opportunity to accompany them. I may not help thousands of them, but with one or two whose life made an impact on me, it will create a chain of goodness and gratefulness that eventually inspires others to help them as well. We need to open the doors of our hearts so we may meet Jesus in the disguise of all who are in need.

As the Lord says:

"Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, who are my brothers, you did not do to me" (Matt 25:40)

Columban Fr Erl Dylan J. Tabaco is currently living and working in Lima, Peru.

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