St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

San Cristobal

Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, March 19, 2006

It’s remarkable that when you try to put a little flesh and blood on our theology by attempting to make a difference in the lives of impoverished children the Lord responds. Why each successive visit seems to bring greater results and blessings, I do not know and yet that has been the case thus far.

We dedicated our mission to San Cristobal Orphanage to Ss. Mother Maria of Paris and Elizabeth the Grand Duchess on a Tuesday morning while adding to a mountain of broken concrete representing hours of hard labor. We broke up and moved with pick axes, shovels and wheelbarrows a large expanse of concrete in the plaza of the orphanage with every intent of putting down a new surface for a basketball court and play area. We did not complete the second half of that task, but there were other jobs to be done and other tasks to be completed and other forces than our sweaty labor at work.

By Saturday we had had a visit from the First Lady’s personal secretary with a representative of the Department of Family Life and by the First Lady’s sister who brought with her a truck load of new mattresses, toys, toilet paper, powdered milk and small boxes of juice that are ubiquitous in our country wherever there are children. She came also with a promise that next week an official delegation from the government would come to assess the needs of the orphanage and that the First Lady herself would look at a list we drew up of projects we designated and help us to complete them when we return in the coming years. The Lord had moved the hearts of those highest in government and we were overjoyed.

Fr. Lopez, a diminutive, saintly Catholic priest has labored for thirty years in this church-forsaken orphanage and had never seen the shadow of a government official. He told us that if we had not been there they would not have come. You see, there are many places like his, many people like him in El Salvador, laboring to alleviate the suffering of the poverty-stricken, too many for officials to notice, and the Catholic Church, seeing the dilapidated conditions at San Cristobal were more interested in building more churches than putting in a decent bathroom. Some of the boys, in fact, slept in their bathroom, which was a largish room with a few stalls with broken doors, no toilet seats and plumbing that was more likely to run over than anything else. Their beds were no more than ten feet from these disease-infested latrines. That will be fixed. Earthquake damage to the ceiling of the second floor might bring the structure down on the heads of the boys underneath should a sizeable quake hit San Salvador again. That critical issue will be addressed. The leaky roofs, the lack of sanitation, the crushing poverty of the orphanage will be addressed as well because God is good and a group of college students cared enough to care and drew the notice of the powerful.

In the midst of this place that could easily have been filled with darkness was Fr. Lopez and children of all ages. Some had been abandoned by parents whose cardboard shack homes and empty pocketbooks could not support another child. At least one had fled to the refuge of San Cristobal as a way to escape the gangs of San Marcos. His name is Nahum and he is my son. Leaving him there broke my heart. San Cristobal, in spite of its dark poverty, is a safe place where there is a school, where high school and even college becomes a possibility. Nahum wants to be an accountant. I and others in El Salvador will do all we can to see that he does.

I cannot relate in words the powerful experience we had. Such things can only be lived to be understood. The children have a choir and a little band of brass instruments. They are amazingly good! They make money by performing. A ray of hope was the building of a little room where some recording equipment will be installed to record their efforts. They sang, “I Left My heart in San Francisco” to us. I know I left mine with them.