In a written interview with Austen Ivereigh, Pope Francis said, “I’m going to dare to offer some advice.... Go down into the underground, and pass from the hyper-virtual, fleshless world to the suffering flesh of the poor. This is the conversion we have to undergo.”
Pope Francis points us to a transformation that begins with proximity.
Proximity challenges preconceived notions and enables mutuality, conviviality, and solidarity.
The late Lean Vanier, founder of L'Arche communities that serves the intellectually disabled, said,
"Generosity is something that is good. But behind generosity is a notion of power. Generosity must flow into an encounter. We must meet people. It's not a question of doing for, but of listening to their stories."
A couple of years ago, my wife and I drove the jagged backroads of La Gloria, a Mexican barrio not far from the border. My friend, Rev. Jim Hagan, affectionately regarded by the people as “Padre Jaime”, spends the last years of his ministry building centers both Mexico and Peru to attend to and keep safe children with severe developmental disabilities (C.A.N.O.A.: Centro de Atención a Niños de Otras Aptitudes). For many children and families, this may be the first time they ever have been recognized as having any worth. My hope was to share with the staffs my clinical skills. We visited a center in Rosarito, one of several he established in Baja California, where children imprisoned in their impaired bodies -- teenagers still in cribs or confined in wheelchairs -- shared with us their smiles. Loving staff changed their diapers and cradled their bodies (my wife was more skilled at holding the children than I!) Jim, with the help of Jose, was out front pouring concrete for a ramp. We joined them and those children who could sit at the table, and they shared with us their simple and delicious lunch. We left there with the sense that we had visited a profoundly happy and holy place. They had gifted us -- I had nothing I could share!
In her first year as the mayor of Oakland, California, Libby Schaaf, keynote speaker at my daughter's graduation from Mill's College in 2015, encouraged the graduates to foster a special kind of courage: "Kindness and curiosity lead to authentic relationships which are the basis for change."
Oscar Romero originally relied on his clerical state to insulate him. He was wary of the efforts of the clergy to serve the poor. He then was appointed bishop of Santiago de Maria in El Salvador, where he began to associate himself with the rural farmworkers of his diocese and the priests who supported them. In the town of Tres Calles, members of the National Guard, while looking for weapons, ransacked the houses of five campesinos and murdered the unarmed men in front of their families. Romero wrote "it rent my soul to hear the bitter tears of widowed mothers and orphaned children who, with uncontrollable sobs, told their story ... of cruel abuse and mourned having been left as orphans" For Romero, this began a process of transformation, leading, not only to his becoming champion of the poor and oppressed of El Salvador, but also ultimately to his own assassination.
There is a phrase attributed to an Aboriginal woman: "If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you are coming because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together."
In the 1970's, I was a member of an interracial ecumenical ministerial group in Oakland, California, called the East Oakland Clergy. Our leader at that time was the popular activist Black pastor of the Allen Temple Baptist Church, Rev. Doctor J Alfred Smith, Sr. Speaking in behalf of the Black community, he told us White clergy that the Black community did not want or need our help. What they wanted was for us to stand with them.
It is the duty of solidarity to challenge those who are in denial, those who savagely misuse the land to boost their own profit margin, those who mindlessly consume natural resources until there are no more. We courageously assert our role as environment guardians and stewards of the earth. Nature will do the rest for us.
Australia was ravaged by fire, destroying the last vestiges of endangered species and leaving most of the land smoking and bare. From the ashes, new growth is beginning to emerge. Costa Rica, named the 2019 "Champion of the Earth" by the United Nations, doubled its reforestation in the last thirty years.
If human carelessness has turned into an arid wasteland what had been a joyful garden, if destruction sends increasing species to the brink of extinction and beyond, remember: "nature bats last"!
 'A Time of Great Uncertainty’, An Interview with Pope Francis by Austen Ivereigh. April 8, 2020, Commonweal Magazine