“When there is no food for three or four days, the children cry from the pain. So I make them mud cookies to fill up their stomachs.”
The missionary priest, Monsignor Patrick Marron from Food for the Poor, quoted a woman living in a village of about two hundred people about 20 miles from Port Au Prince, the capital of Haiti. Monsignor Marron ‘retired’ from his diocese of San Antonio and decided to serve as a missionary priest for Food the Poor.
Father Marron needed to understand more about how these people live to speak about poverty which boggles the western mind. The priest wanted to see with his own eyes, hear from the people themselves, so that listeners like us in Carson City, Nevada will be moved to help.
Hence, he asked to go to this village where everyone lives in mud huts. That bears repeating: Lives in mud huts. And to ask permission from one of the residents to enter her mud hut. To talk with her. So that he could help us visualize how our neighbors in the southern Caribbean Ocean live.
“What happens when it rains?”
“The mud begins to melt and we must stand, there is no place to sit. Sometimes for days.”
“What do you do for your children when there is no food?”
“They begin to cry after three or four days. From the pain of their stomachs. So I make them mud cookies to fill up their stomachs.” The Monsignor pulled out a flat, four or five inch light brown object, held it up so we could all see it and declared, “This is a mud cookie.”
It was my husband who first introduced me to the organization, Food for the Poor. We were getting married, I planned to invite a number of people to the reception celebration but I neither needed nor wanted gifts.
“Ask them to donate to your favorite charity in lieu of gifts,” John suggested.
“What a cool idea..But my favorite charities before I became a Catholic were World Wildlife and Emily’s List.” Emily’s List is an acronym for ‘enough money is like yeast’ and serves as a way to bolster money to fund pro-abortion candidates for office. Not exactly a charity. My recent conversion to Catholicism had changed everything in my life.
Without missing a beat, John said, “Food for the Poor. Ferdinand Mahfood started it following an intense religious experience and conversion to Catholicism. It is one of my favorite charities with less than five percent overhead. My money goes to the poor not salaries of administrators.”
A year or two later, we were on a business trip in Florida. Recalling that Food for the Poor headquarters was not far from where we were staying, I called the corporate offices and explained that we were supporters. On a whim, I asked if there any chance to meet Ferdinand Mahfood. To our surprise and delight, ‘Ferdy’ spent close to an hour with us and took us on a tour of the entire facility. When I think back on our meeting, I recall how exhausted Ferdinand Mahfood appeared and how simple- even austere- were his office furnishings and those of his staff.
Baking mud cookies in the hot sun to give to the children…There are only two human reactions to this level of poverty: Write a check and try to forget or rationalize it away by blaming these victims. I have done both. But there is a third, rare but possible.
The first two responses happen, I believe, to obscure the more authentic human response. Why her and not me? We have done nothing to warrant being born in the most prosperous country in the world: The comfort, more food than we can eat, the list of abundance is endless.
How is this kind of inequity even possible in this twenty-first century where we routinely send rockets into space and spend billions on anti-aging drugs? How can people starve to death while we are battling obesity? Rather than suffer the guilt surrounding our prosperity, it’s tempting to blame these poorest of the poor.
Why don’t their leaders do something? That list is endless as well.
We’re Americans: Anything can be fixed…can’t it?
I had not thought of a third response until I listened to Father Marron at Teresa of Avila Church on Good Shepherd Sunday. Rather than accepting the retirement his age and service to the Catholic Church has earned him, this priest decides to look into the face of abject poverty. Face what is overwhelming and impossible to comprehend.
How can people live like this? To gaze into the eyes of one who does, of her children and listen. The third response is not possible without Someone else. Pointing up at the ceiling of the church, the priest declares, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven…”.and repeats, “They kingdom come in Carson City, Nevada as it is in heaven.” Then he directs us to the Gospel of Matthew, the favorite verses of Food for the Poor:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
I doubt that I was the only person thinking about doing just that as we walked out of the church and into the pelting rain- secure in the fact of a real home awaiting my return. “Thy kingdom come in Carson City, Nevada as it is in heaven.”