Keeping a distance

Yesterday, I ran across this quote from Robert Goizueta’s Caminenos con Jesús:

As a society, we are happy to help and serve the poor, as long as we don’t have to walk with them where they walk, that is, as long as we can minister to them from our safe enclosures. The poor can then remain passive objects of our actions, rather than friends, compañeros and compañeras, with whom we interact. As long as we can be sure that we will not have to live with them, and thus have interpersonal relationships with them . . . we will try to help “the poor”— but, again, only from a controllable, geographical distance.

The temptation is to keep a distance, to not touch the poor or the marginalized, to help from afar.

I am grieved these days that a parish I know will not be sending people here to visit people in their sister parish because they base their travel policy on US State Department warnings. Even if people from here visit there, it’s not the same as meeting people on their own turf.

Even when a group visits, it is hard for some to cross the divide. Sometimes it’s the language barrier, but often it’s more than that. I remember a group of three I took to El Salvador years ago. The person who made the best contact with the people (especially the kids) was the only one who didn’t speak Spanish.

How can we accompany the poor – not merely “help” them? How can we cross the line between them and us? How can we really be sisters and brothers – if we don’t sit down at table together with the poor – at their table?

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He sat down at the tables of the poor and the sinners and ate with them.

Can we do less?

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