In the past few years I have been very fortunate to be able to travel to a number of developing countries: the Dominican Republic, Chile, Bolivia, and Guatemala. Based on my experiences in these places, we can learn a great deal from the poor of the developing world.
Twice I have been able to accompany students from St. Albert High School in Council Bluffs on their annual mission trip to the Dominican Republic. During each trip our mission was to dig and build latrines in remote mountain communities.
The work that was done was of great benefit to the villages we served, but I believe the experience of living with the families while we were there was of even greater benefit to both the students and myself.
Gratitude and thanksgiving
We were able to get to know the people in that short period of time and by the end of the project they considered us family. These people have very little in the way of the material goods of life, but they frequently express great gratitude and thanksgiving to God for the blessings they have received. They are especially thankful for their families, and they see people and relationships as God’s greatest blessing.
What makes us truly happy
During my travels in Central and South America I have seen this time and time again. The people don’t have many of the things that we would consider basic necessities, yet they are among the happiest people I have ever met. I cannot help but be happy whenever I am with them. They have learned that as long as they have their families around them, they already have what is most precious.
It is not that the poor don’t know of all the material goods the world has to offer or that they would reject them if the goods were given, but the people have a very clear perspective on what is most valuable in life.
I believe there is a very good reason why Jesus always speaks so tenderly of the poor in the Gospels. We can learn a great deal from them about what is truly important in life and the many blessings that God is offering to us each day.
(Fr. Mark Neal, Pastor, St. Theresa Parish, Des Moines)