By Fr. Joseph Rinaldo, SdC
I met Cruz on a sidewalk in Detroit begging for money: she was addicted, hungry and homeless. I convinced her to enter a residential program where she would be treated with dignity and love. She accepted. I drove her with the promise of visiting her as often as I could. Cruz spent three years trying to get around that mandate as she stayed stuck in the disease of addiction. Not until she finally gave up faking it, got honest with herself and got into recovery did she make any progress. The two-word requirement fundamental to sobriety is rigorous honesty.
Cruz grew up in a rough part of East Detroit, MI, where her drug addiction was almost inevitable. She lived in the drug world and she inherited the genetic brain disease. At age 13, her drug was marijuana and she got hooked on cocaine at age 18. By the time she was in her forties she lost everything, including her four children. Cruz moved away to get a new start, but she found out that her disease came with her. Between 2001 and 2007, she spent three years in jail for committing crimes to buy drugs. She wasn’t a good criminal, because she always got caught.
In jail, for the first time, she wanted to be sober. In 2014, she entered Our Hope, the women’s recovery home in the Heritage Hill district of Grand Rapids. That’s when she first tried to get honest. She told her therapist, “I was afraid of my feelings, so I buried them with anger and drugs.” Cruz stayed sober in a Recovery Roadhouse for six months before disaster struck. The father of her children went to prison for dealing drugs, and since she didn’t have custody of them, her four children were given up for adoption. She lost all hope and went on a two year binge. Then her children’s father got out of jail, and Cruz got pregnant. In November 2016, she delivered a healthy baby girl who was taken away from her in the hospital.
When Cruz was discharged, she went straight to a drug clinic, where they gave her a second chance at Our Hope. She said God, too, gave her another chance to be the good mother she always wanted to be. This time at Our Hope the counselors insisted Cruz had to get rigorously honest with her feelings if she wanted to stay sober. Finally Cruz understood that she was the problem. “Before when I was hurt, I used. When I was angry, I used. When I was sad, I used. When I was happy, I used.” Our Hope taught her how to be emotionally honest, the sine qua non of recovery. Our Hope’s program also led her out of the chaotic life her brain disease created into the structured, orderly days she leads now. Cruz has a job, lives in the Catholic Community’s first Step House, has a sponsor, a recovery coach, and best of all, sees her seven month old daughter whose foster mother has cared for her as her own child.
Cruz dreams of having her older children back in her life one day. She prays, “They will want to find me and see me as the good mother I always wanted to be for them. I never thought God would let me be a mother again. Now by God’s grace, I have another chance.”
Cuddalore – The 6th Annual Guanellian Lay Movement Meeting was January 20th-21st. This two-day program allowed office bearers and the delegated members from Andra, Bangalore, Chennai and Cuddalore to gather with great enthusiasm. It was a wonderful journey for the laity to experience and share the Guanellian spirit. Fr. Visuvasam, Provincial Delegate and local Superior, welcomed the group reminding them of the words of Pope Francis about the participation of the Laity and how our Founder encouraged the participation of the Laity in the mission. He spoke of the Guanellian Charism, “Paternity of God,” encouraging the laity to live their vocation, carry their cross and walk the Calvary with Christ as the focus. Fr. Rosario gave the next talk. He spoke of Christian Virtues, quoting from the Bible how Christ Himself showed trust in Abba Father by praying in silence before doing anything. Without God at the center we are only doing social service. We must spend time in prayer to gain strength to do God’s will. In prayer God will reveal and inspire us with a plan, show us the method to execute and fulfill His will.
The second day began with Adoration and Holy Mass. Fr. Francis gave the first talk, speaking about the three Virtues taught by our Founder. He said when we allow evil to be the sower the harvest will be pride, greed and lust. Whereas, when we allow God to be the sower the harvest will be humility, poverty and mortification through which we can overcome evil and do great good. A Guanellian Cooperator shared her journey from being a benefactor, GLM member and finally a Cooperator. Her experience inspired the members and helped them to understand how they too can become Guanellian Cooperators. The members’ spirits were strengthened and renewed to continue their good work.
As we are in the Lenten season, it would be appropriate to reflect upon the greatest testament which our beloved Founder St. Louis Guanella left to us his disciples: Prayer and Suffering. It can be well understood from the words of Bishop Aurelio Bacciarini, the successor of Fr. Guanella. Prayer is the first necessary condition for the stability, progress and success of the Houses of Fr. Guanella. He also differentiates prayer and the spirit of prayer: Prayer is the common and ordinary invocation of God that we raise to Him during the day. Spirit of prayer is something more intense and deeper. Therefore for these extraordinary charitable acts not only mere human hands are needed but also the kind and strong intervention of God. Without the spirit of prayer, we would not receive God’s favors. Hence it is a requirement for every member of a community and whole of the congregation to be soaked in prayer and make the Houses of Charity real tabernacles of constant praise to God. How to make our life prayer? a) from the Altar of the Holy Eucharist, let us draw the treasures of Divine Mercy b) from the reception of Holy Communion, let us unite ourselves with Jesus with the fervor of saints, so that nothing of this world may separate us from Him c) From the Holy Tabernacle – Paradise on Earth – let us sanctify our work, our travelling and our rest by keeping our hearts and minds on the Lord, in conversation with heaven.
Suffering is a word that drips drops of blood. Unless and until one is filled with the spirit of prayer, it is highly difficult to understand the term suffering. From the very life of Jesus, we can perceive that there is no redemption without the cross, suffering. The Church of Jesus Christ floats on the blood of the martyrs. All her triumphs are rooted in suffering. The Houses of Fr. Guanella were born from martyrdom. Fr. Louis Guanella suffered martyrdom in everything: contradictions, accusations, opposition, humiliations, disappointments, hunger, thirst, tiredness, agonies of body and soul. Let us understand that suffering is the key to reach paradise. As imitators of Jesus Christ and followers of Fr. Guanella, let us strive to endure daily suffering, suffer discomforts and privations, endure and carry the crosses that faithfully accompany our daily lives. The very legacy of Prayer and Suffering teaches us a lesson to despise the world and detach ourselves from its allurements. Let us live in God by prayer and suffering as our beloved Father and Founder did.
At the invitation of our Holy Father the season of lent is a favorable time which is offered by God as ‘a sacramental sign of our conversion. Lent summons us and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly, and in every aspect of our lives’. Prompted by Pope Francis, we shall recollect the aspect of prayer and suffering as Guanellians. He says that prayer should become the driving force to enable us to reach out to the poor, marginalized and the victimized. Prayer is the constant response of our hearts to the will of God. The attitude of penance reminds us that we need to suffer with endurance, to say no to our selfishness. Acts of charity should be the constant striving of our hearts to share our time and resources with those who have nothing or nobody.
Added to our own physical, psychological, socio-economic problems, the present religious and political situation impels us to march forward with much courage to face the prejudices and persecutions against us Christians in order to be rooted out from a particular country or territory. Generally this might arouse in us questions like where is God? Why all these to us alone? and make us lose hope in God. On a positive note this happens to us because God wants to communicate with us but we are busy doing our work. Often we are after our minds by being too much indulged in social networks, technology, media which keeps us away from the creator who is behind every sphere. Rather we are called to be after our hearts from where love proceeds and inclines us to care for the anthropological aspect of our existence. It is high time this Lent that we fast from the media, network culture and be rooted in communicating with God in prayer and receive graces to face our trials and tribulations. May this Lenten Season help us to have metanoia and a fruitful celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord.
Legazpi – On December 19th the Servants of Charity celebrated Christmas and the end of 2017 in the presence of Fr. Dong, SdC, Fr. David, SdC, and Fr. Sagayaraj, SdC, opened a year-end Christmas Party to give thanks to the staffs who have dedicated themselves to the service of the community. Practically, gifts could not be absent from the party because they are a sign of bringing good luck and joy to others.
Cuddalore – St. Joseph’s Seminary celebrated Christmas in a grand and meaningful manner for the evening school children. The program began on a spiritual note and also included singing, dancing, party games, gift-sharing and competitive programs. Fr. Francis Assisi, the chief guest, was very happy and amazed by the little works and gifts of charity rendered to the poor children. A thought provoking message about Christmas and New Year was given by Fr. Arockia Raj. His motivation and encouragement made the participants feel more energized and strengthened.
Legazpi – As the fruit of a long period of preparation, on December 22nd, the novices helped bring a little joy to the children of Purok 6, with a Christmas Party at the Pavilion of Harong Kan Sagrada Familia. To start the party, Fr. David, SdC, celebrated Holy Mass with Fr. Sagayaraj SdC, in the presence of benefactors and friends. We gathered the poor children of Purok 6 to organize them to play games, dance, sing and give them a place to have a party. The children were overwhelmed with happiness and joy, carrying gifts in their hands. We were delighted to organize this event to let them know that God never abandons them.
Chennai – Suppose Christmas was celebrated with the Don Guanella Evening School students December 22nd. Fr. Soosai Rathinam, Provincial Superior was the guest of honor. He delivered the message that sharing gives true joy and everlasting happiness like Santa Claus (St. Nicholas). Every student was given a blanket for a Christmas gift. The celebration was grand and enjoyable with colorful dances and drama performances by the students. The celebration concluded with the exchange of gifts with ‘chrisma christi friends.’
Legazpi – The jubilation continued for several days when the Annual STEP Christmas Party was celebrated with the families of our students. The traditional “Nativity-Tableau” performed by the “good children” solemnly opened the program of the day. At the same time, the Physical Therapy department celebrated their Christmas Party with patients who had been coming for treatment. Soon the merrymaking began with Christmas songs, dances and games to give life to everyone. There was never a dull moment, although there was stormy weather outside. The simple joys of gift giving filled everyone’s hearts with gratitude for the coming of the Lord Jesus who is the source of all joys and hopes.
Thalavadi – A group of students from St. John De Britto School, Sathy, brought the Christmas message to our residence on a recent visit. Around 80 students of 6th-10th standard prepared a cultural program to bring the Christmas message alive for our residents. They enjoyed the dancing and singing, helping them to forget the worries, anxiety and trauma of their daily lives. It was also a good chance for the young students to learn the life situation of the patients and gain knowledge of their lives. This visit made an impact on them and inspired St. Joseph’s Matriculation School, Sathy, to also come for a visit, providing much needed rations and basic necessities for the residents. They are now able to give witness to the ministry.
Solomon Islands – The feast day of St. Stephen, the first martyr and patron of Sulumoni Christian Community on Kolombangara Island, was celebrated on December 26th. The simple chapel was decorated and the liturgy was well prepared by the community members. The Guanellian Fathers from Noro Parish traveled 45 minutes by the Parish boat on the open sea and celebrated the feast day Mass for about 55 people, 7 families from Sulumoni and 5 families from Nugusu Village participated and received the feast day and Christmas special blessings.