"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"
– Matthew 5:9-10
Seeking justice and peace can be a tumultuous endeavor. Pope Francis reminds us of that in his reflections about the beatitudes from his recent apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate:
In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy, for the thirst for power and worldly interests often stands in our way. Saint John Paul II noted that "a society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish this solidarity between people". In such a society, politics, mass communications and economic, cultural and even religious institutions become so entangled as to become an obstacle to authentic human and social development. As a result, the Beatitudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed negatively, regarded with suspicion, and met with ridicule. (GE 91)
Despite the potential and realized negative effects, there are those who respond to these complex issues in amazing ways. There are numerous opportunities to attend faith-based mission trips taking American youth across the border that serve the poor of Mexico. There are also many U.S. based nonprofit organizations serving those who live in unimaginable poverty on the other side of the border. Like the San Diego based nonprofit where 13-year-old Daniella Benitez learned firsthand about the struggles of her neighbors to the south. In 2017, her Catholic school, Notre Dame Academy, worked with the nonprofit Build a Miracle (BAM), which builds home for families in Mexico. After that experience, Daniella decided she wanted to do more. All on her own, with no help from her parents, the eighth grader reached out to friends, started a GoFundMe, held bake sales and lemonade stands and babysat to raise the money. She raised $16,000 to construct homes for families in need. Compliments of a caring American eight grader, the Tijuana family of five who shared one mattress, had no toilet, and showered outside with a hose, now has a house to call home. When asked why she wanted to raise money to help a family in another country she said, "It was the least I could do."
Daniella reminds us that we are called to put human dignity and care for the poor above all else. One of the principles of Catholic social teaching is solidarity. The U.S. Catholic Bishops explain that solidarity means "we are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world. At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace."
I have personally led fifteen youth mission trips across the border into Baja Mexico. I brought my teenage son with me on a few of those trips. My time in Mexico serving side by side with the young people of my parish are some of my most cherished memories. I believe those mission trips connect me spiritually to the people who live there. It is hard for me to not think of the neglected and poverty-stricken children who do not have the luxury of going to school. It is hard for me to forget their parents who work from sun up to sun down hand picking the produce that fills our grocery stores. Good for Daniella for being so moved with compassion that she was compelled to act. I pray that all the youth who are passionate about justice and social concern be inspired to act.
What can we learn from a 13-year-old? That standing up for solidarity is the least we can do.