There are many concepts of "mission" but most clearly for me is the idea of encuentro (encounter). In this encuentro we come together to have an encounter with the love of God between us...which is to say, that it does not only come from the one arriving from near and/or afar but from those already "there".
El Guayabo, Oaxaca, Mexico
"¡Que hermosos son, sobre los montes, los pies del que trae buenas nuevas; del que proclama la paz, del que anuncia buenas noticias, del que proclama la salvacion, del que dice: Tu Dios reina!"- Isaias 52:7
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaiom salvation, who say: Your God reigns!" -Isaiah 52:7
El Padre Noe Ruiz
-in the mountains near Torola, El Salvador
For the last twelve or thirteen years (the duration of my priesthood thus far) I have had the privilege and blessing of working and living in the undocumented community in the United States (New Jersey as the pinpoint) as well as frequent and consistent work in El Salvador (which I consider my adopted country by choice), Mexico and, most recently, Guatemala.
I have befriended and been befriended by some of the most humble, kind, funny, gracious, compassionate, spirited, gentle, open-hearted people that anyone could ever hope to know. And because if this, I have tried (as best as possible) to maintain the connection between us in faith and love.
El Carmen, Oaxaca, Mexico
Many of my friends have been victims of violence, systematic opression, poverty, domestic abuse, and vicios (addictions) that have scarred families and communities for generations. And yet, in the midst of it all, they are people of real, genuine faith and goodness....seeking to move away from all that has harmed them in order to live their life in peace and grace.
Due to these friendships, I decided several years ago to earmark roughly 50% of all sales from my artwork to directly help the people that I have encountered and befriended along the way. It is not systematic, it is not through any organization or foundation but rather through direct contact/direct action for my friends in need....and the number is growing (in both friendship and need!). The help is not a "one-off" contribution but rather ongoing assistance: it is an attempt at living communion.
La Iglesia y la plaza en El Mozote, El Salvador
El Monumento de El Mozote, El Salvador. This was the site of one of the most brutal massacres of the civilian population during the most recent Civil War in El Salvador. It is also the first place I ever celebrated a mass in Spanish.
The new memorial park and retreat center built in El Mozote for the promotion of peace
Please know that the sale of my work helps people to buy food, clothes, school supplies, medicine, etc. for people in the various countries/communities where I continue to serve. This has given my artwork a new urgency and sense of purpose....not only do I hope that the artwork in and of itself uplifts, encourages, provokes and responds to the world around us in communion with God but that it also reaps the added benefit of helping someone live a little bit better....with less fear for their future. I have no illusions: this is a very small act and in the grand scheme of things not very-earth-shattering but it is not insignificant either. As Mother Teresa of Calcuta reminds us: "No one can do everything but everyone can do something." We are all everyone.
Pictured here with my dear friend Oscar Granados in San Miguel, El Salvador. He was tragically killed in a car accident a few months after this foto was taken.
Francisco Aguilar and his family in front of their home in Jocoaitique, El Salvador. During the Civil Wat, at age 8, Francisco's mother, father, brothers and sisters were killed in one singular moment in front of their home (pictured). He was at school at the time and left as the sole survivor of the family. He is one of my best friends who has taught me so very much about the value of human life.
Las flores de Guatemala
La Aldea de Santa Lucia, Guatemala
my friend, Sender Elias Canté
La visita a la casa
Manrique Segovia, El Pilon, El Salvador
The people/communites in the pictures are some of the people that have been given assistance in one way or another and that have helped me in ways too numerous to mention in terms of gratitude, resilience, goodness and love in the face of much adversity. For these friendships, I remain eternally grateful.
"Ya no son extranjero, ya no estan fuera de su tierra, sino que ahora comparten con el pueblo santo los mismos derechos, y son miembros de la familia de Dios". -Efesios 2:19
"You are strangers and aliens no longer, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." -Ephesians 2:19