At the age of 15, I was a rebellious, hard-headed young girl. I was confused with life, and I questioned anyone and everyone in authority. Back then, who would have thought I would become passionate about Catholic social thought and social justice issues? I was a Catholic benchwarmer in my youth.
I am the daughter of undocumented immigrant parents. With less than an eighth grade education, my parents came when the Bracero program was in full force. They traversed through mountains and faced many difficulties as they sought better opportunities in the United States. Life was not easy for them, but their Catholic faith was their source of strength.
Cousins, aunts, and uncles all came in search of the American Dream—seeking refuge in my parents’ home. Overcrowded bedrooms and kitchen tables were the norm in my childhood. I would watch my mother atortillando a mano (flattening tortillas by hand), having beans on the stove and waiting for the arrival of the six, seven, eight, or nine-plus people she would feed on a daily basis—all of this after having already worked her ten-hour shift earlier in the day. At that age, I did not understand all of our struggles, and I often complained. I didn’t know this then, but this was the beginning of my life’s journey. I began to seek answers through my faith by asking, “God, what do you want of me?”
Years later, as a young mother with three children, I began to work as a community organizer. My work with various communities exposed me to the different troubles and needs individuals go through. Through my experience, I came to understand the phrase, “the world as it is and the world as it should be.” I started to look for ways to become an active agent in shaping the world as it should be. I worked tirelessly for years, meeting organizers who became politicians (and one who eventually became the president of the United States) and multimillionaires who taught me there are good people who care about those in need and that they, too, are living their faith through action. I learned about the influential role of the Church and how many of the community organizations were founded on the preferential option for the poor and the dignity of the person. Despite all this, however, I still had doubts. The burning question remained: “What do you want of me, God?”
One of the greatest gifts I received was a full-tuition scholarship to pursue my Master’s Degree in Theology. According to its definition, theology is the study of the nature of God. As I see it, however, God knew me so well that he offered me the greatest opportunity: to study his nature and discover Him within ourselves. I realized that compassion is to be demonstrated to all. We all have the right to be treated with dignity and respect—regardless of who we are or where we come from. It doesn’t matter if someone is the undocumented immigrant, the homeless person, or the single mother trying to balance paying her bills and going back to school.
I learned that to build a relationship with people in need does not simply consist of fixing the problems. It also requires us to walk in their shoes, to listen to the sounds of the dragging sack of hurt that they are carrying within, and to hear the fear in their voices. This is a calling I can live out as a staff member of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the regional director of City Southwest Catholic Charities. Through this ministry, I have grown in wisdom by seeing the common, inherent humanity in all of us, and how Jesus calls us to recognize this and show compassion to each other. In those I serve I see my parents, my sister, my grandparents, my husband, and myself. As Jesus calls us to do, love your neighbor as yourself.
This is a glimpse of my story. Some may say I have touched many lives, but I must say I have been touched by many more. I have walked alongside many youth and still work with many to this day. I hear you challenging authority and asking the difficult questions about your faith, the injustices, your hopes, and your dreams. Keep asking them. Don’t stop.
God, what do you want of us? We are all still trying to discover what it is you want, but this much is true: it is always to love.