“The Beatitudes is not a spirituality…it’s a geography. It tells us where to stand.” Father Greg Boyle
In the welcoming, vibrant parish of Saint Mary of the Hills in Boylston Massachusetts Father Manuel Clavijo celebrates the justice-focused work of his community. Father Manny recently discussed with us how his parish became involved with CRS Helping Hands and what it means to them.
As a CRS Global Fellow Father Manny is no stranger to the works of Catholic Relief Services. His community takes part in most of the CRS parish programs including doing an ethical trade sale during the Advent season. But well beyond the works of CRS, this is one active parish; whether it’s St. Patrick’s Day or Valentines Day or pasta with the Knights of Columbus, Saint Mary of the Hills finds reasons to gather. The parish celebrates a “family day” each year for no other reason than to honor that they are a family and that they have a family. Also, Father Manny explained, they love not only to really talk to each other (about everything) but also to really hear each other with regards to everyone’s different ideas and viewpoints. They meet regularly with a goal in mind and always with missionary intent.
Helping Hands was a natural fit for the social and communal nature of this parish and Father Manny wanted to do it in a way that would truly resonate with his church family. To raise funds the first year, Father went out to the community and sought a grant, inviting members of their greater area to come to the event and share the “common destiny” of serving one another.
The event has evolved and it is now a yearly mandatory event for Confirmation students and their sponsors. Each year, those in Confirmation are asked to make a reflective daily sacrifice during the Lenten season and to offer that up for those in Burkina and for this event (about $15 a person). With this, Father Manny has witnessed what he calls the “ripple effect” of the Helping Hands event. He sees families serving together, one cup of rice at a time, he sees a community coming together to live out the mandate of Christ to “serve the poor”. How empowering it is, he said to me, to know that “in one simple hour” families have changed their lives by serving together, a community has changed itself by giving joy in service AND to top it off, people halfway around the world are truly having their lives changed for the better. Ripple effects.
St. Mary of the Hills always packages the meals on a Sunday and they then follow up their service the following week, by getting all of the volunteers together to cook and serve the very meal they packaged for those we serve overseas. They reflect on CRS Stations of the Cross, make the meal, and then they sit in silence as they think on the lives of the people in Burkina Faso; the young women who have escaped forced marriages, the older women who have been ousted by society after being accused of witchcraft, the orphans.
When discussing what it means to be a part of 7 million meals Father likened it to the experience of the event itself. “When we package meals,” he said, we get involved in the measuring, the sealing, and the music. And then, all of a sudden there is a gong and we are awakened.” He believes we are a part of “God’s mysterious works” and that hearing that we in the United States have packaged this amount of meals, and sent funds overseas to go along with them, is it’s own gong, it’s own awakening.
As for his hopes for those we serve through CRS Helping Hands Father Manny put it so beautifully when he explained that he hopes that all the people touched by this program can “fulfill and achieve whom they are created by God to be.” Whatever the miles between us, he told me, our faith invites us to be with them, to see their transformation.
Like the quote from Father Gregory Boyle says, Father Manny believes the call of the Beatitudes is a call to LIVE in those words, to stand in solidarity, in the location of anyone who needs us. Quoting Father Boyle again he said, this program, it’s not necessarily about success “it’s about being:” about standing with one another, journeying together, living in solidarity.
Ripple effects. Father Manny invites everyone to try the program and witness them in your own parish and in your own life.