Arica, Chile—Even thousands of miles away from the current conflict in Iraq, war is the principal theme on people`s minds here. The newspaper carries stories of U.S. military might next to worldwide protests, with the front page often showing images of Iraqi children whose health has been violated by U.S. aggression.
I can only imagine the media overload that characterizes the U.S. currently when Arica, Chile—a town that is arguably as far from the war as one can be—is consumed by coverage. I cannot adequately express the frustration that this chaos causes in my heart. As a means of maintaining hope, I offer a few glimpses of peace that I pray may provide a blueprint of love to contrast with the current plans of war.
Hope for the unwanted
Yesterday Ruben arrived at the Hogar de Cristo. His clothing reeked of the accoutrements of homelessness, he seemed dazed by his new surroundings, and he had forgotten a large chunk of his personal information. Chilean police brought Ruben to the Hogar because he had been sleeping outside, on a dirt soccer pitch—another case that no one wanted. Ruben, frankly, is someone who requires much more asistance than I can normally provide—my responsiblities for the 70 elderly adults often exceed my time and energy.
In the last two days, however, the new life that has come to Ruben’s eyes has lifted my spirits. Simply by arriving at the Hogar, he had regained some of his personal dignity. Ruben will probably never be self-sufficient again, but I know of opportunities he has to make his life better. People like Ruben force me to abandon my pride and celebrate the beautiful moments of hope that my work provides.
A boss’ talents
Every day I am taught incredible new things by my boss. Elena is a truly tremendous director, mother, woman, and friend. She has an astouding ability to reach people, to be the bridge that Padre Alberto Hurtado, the founder of the Hogar de Cristo, inspires all of us to be.
Just sitting next to her, observing the comfortable manner that she masters to converse with anyone who graces her presence, I am inspired to establish simliar relationships with people here. Elena`s tranquility, sense of humor, and respect to others lets me daydream of a world where basic human rights are a treasured commodity. Her uncanny ability to understand the needs of others continues to amaze me. Her presence gives me peace.
The “good gringo” and the war
Although I am ashamed of President Bush`s decision to attack Iraq, I have been extremely grateful for the response of people here to my presence during this difficult time. Peace marchers consider me “a good gringo”; co-workers request my opinions about the war; neighbors ask about the safety of my family and friends. People are always ready to share their disgust with me, yet they do not consider me the equivalent of the U.S. government.
I am heartened by the movement of global solidarity for the Iraqi nation, and I pray that the momentum present there might curtail the current offensive and prevent a future one.
Hope in the midst of war is an enormous challenge. I pray that God might inspire all of us to seek peace in our personal lives, so that each of us can model that peace on a large scale. May God protect all the Iraqi children whose lives hang in the balance, and may this tragedy teach us humility about U.S. attitudes toward the world.