Today is the feast of Saint Alberto Hurtado, S.J., (1901-1952), Chilean apostle of the poor. His father died when he was four years old and he grew up poor. Though he thought of entering the Jesuits, he put this off to aid his mother and brother, working and studying law. Finishing his law degree and having arranged for his family, he entered the Jesuits in 1923.
He was involved with Catholic Action but because of his outspoken critique of Chilean society in a book Is Chile a Catholic Country? he was relieved of that duty.
One day after meeting a homeless man he spoke with some rich women who helped him found the Hogar de Cristo, the Home (Hearth) of Christ, which took in children and the homeless and provided them skills to live.
But Padre Alberto Hurtado was also a tireless critic of the structures of injustice and an advocate of Catholic social teaching. For him it was not enough to give alms. One must work for justice. He once stated this very blatantly:
“Marx said that religion was the opium of the people. But I also know that charity can be the opium of the rich.”
Tireless in his care for the poor and for justice which he promoted in many ways, even through a periodical he founded, he died at the age of 51 of pancreatic cancer.
Lawyer and priest, advocate for justice and friend of the poor, a “contemplative in action,” he is a good model for us of a follower of Christ who combined justice, accompaniment of the poor, and a deep spirituality. And so his life and his words challenge us:
“Christ stumbles through our streets in the person of so many poor who are hungry, thrown out of their miserable lodgings because of sickness or destitution. Christ has no home! And we who have the good fortune to have one and have food to satisfy our hunger, what are we doing about it?”
There is a short article on St. Alberto Hurtado by Father James Martin in the America Magazine blog here.