There is no question that after ten days of laboring under the sweltering Dominican sun, the 52 young men turned missionaries were ready to head back to the comfort of the good ole U.S. of A. Sure, the Miami sun is as potent and the humidity, probably more daunting, but the comfort of central air conditioning racing endlessly through every vent in every corner of our home-sweet-homes can make it seem as if 68 degrees is the standard climate.
And yet, while our return was reason for excitement, leaving San Felipe Abajo and its people was difficult. Droves of villagers packed our common areas on Saturday night to express their thanks, play one last hand of dominoes (doble seis not our Cuban doble nueve), and dance at least one merengue. Sunday morning was more of the same. At the crack of dawn there were men, women, and children who hoped to get one last glimpse of the americanos, give one last handshake, and express one last word of appreciation.
What a strange experience it must have been for the boys. On the one hand ready to go and see their family and friends, on the other regret that they cannot stay longer, mixed with a dab of guilt that they leave their new-formed friends behind in the poverty of the Dominican campo. The reality is that the mission isn’t over.
While it is true that time served on BYM was completed and the bridge was constructed, I told the boys on the morning that we left that the mission continues. Armed with a new sense of awareness that most people in our world live in poverty, these young men now understand firsthand their obligation to continue their service.
There is poverty everywhere. You don’t have to travel to a small Caribbean nation to find it. Just look around. Practically every major intersection in Miami gives evidence of it. Signs held by people willing to work for food tell the story. Every soup kitchen, homeless shelter, refugee camp, nursing home, and food bank screams of the plight of the poor and infirmed. It’s right here in our own backyard, under our very noses. There is so much left to do. The mission isn’t over, it’s only getting started.
On Saturday afternoon, the day before we left, we gathered the whole community on the new bridge to celebrate the vigil mass. Over 300 people gathered on top of the structure to give thanks. The gospel was providential. “No prophet is ever welcomed in his own town,” claims Jesus. While these young men have undergone a life changing experience, they return to a reality that hasn’t. How will they adequately express what they saw, what they felt, what they heard? How will their new perspective be met? How will they modify their lives and their relationships? Will they stand up to the adversity and unawareness of Miami and the world or will they simply conform to the expectation of indifference?
Don Hélder Pessoa Câmara, the oftentimes controversial Brazilian bishop, once said, “If I feed the poor they call me a saint, if I ask why they are poor they call me a communist.” That was the very question that these young men asked, several times, when sitting in the dark celebrating mass. Why are they poor? How will we react to that question in Miami?
No sir, the mission isn’t over, it’s only just begun. The true test of BYM is not then, but now.
I want to take the opportunity to thank so many who made our mission possible. To those who helped organize and coordinate, to those who donated time and treasure… thank you. To the doctors, teachers, staff, parents, and alumni who chaperoned... thank you. You spent those days away from your families to spend it with the boys from Belen and the people of San Felipe Abajo. Our collective mission is the formation of our world’s future leaders. These students ran to the fire and experienced a serious dose of what it is to be a “man for others.” Now, let them run to the fire right here at home.