Editor’s note: As Lent begins, the Florida Catholic will focus on a series of articles on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
ORLANDO | She sat under a large tree, casting shade over a few people in a long line for food. Nancy didn’t make an appointment because she could not be sure if the bus would be on time. It took her an hour just to travel from her home.
At 75, this Cuban immigrant found herself needing help for herself and her son, left mute after being tortured in a Cuban prison for three years. Dressed in her gray beanie, yellow t-shirt and jacket, she sat resting upon her grocery bag.
Hanging prominently around her neck was a silver cross. It is her belief in God that helps her brave many difficult circumstances of her life – as a mother who takes care of a son who is unwell; as a Dama en Blanco, the moniker of counter-revolutionary women who marched against the rule of an itinerant communist government; as a patriot who left her siblings, friends and country in hopes of a better life for her children.
As she looked up, a broad, warm smile stretched across her face. Her name called out at 10:30 a.m., she joyfully welcomed whatever Catholic Charities of Central Florida provided in the food box this week – ground beef, juice, vegetables and more.
“Catholic Charities is marvelous. I come from a country where there is none of that,” she said.
It saddens her to think how she could not express her faith or participate in the celebration of Mass, and how she could not even have a picture of Christ on her wall. Now, she attends St. Joseph Parish in Orlando and often sits before the Virgin Mary, thanking her for caring for her family.
As she bent down to lift the heavy box, a young volunteer came to her aid. His mercy was not out of pity, but rather honored the dignity of a beautiful and vulnerable child of God. It was a mercy that honors and lifts one up.
Quoting from Misericordia et Misera, Father Anthony Aarons, Missionary of Mercy appointed by Pope Francis, noted the pope’s words, “It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of His tender love. It is the time of mercy because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need” (21).
“We spread the honor of the mercy of Jesus by carrying out the works of mercy,” said Father Aarons, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. “Through them we become present to our sisters and brothers and by them we draw them closer to the tender love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
He explained these works of mercy “are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in His spiritual and bodily necessities.”
Offering this mercy is becoming increasingly difficult. Catholic Charities’ director of food ministries, Juan Vega, noted from July through December 2021 versus July through December 2022, the Central Florida organization served nearly 4,000 more households and nearly 16,000 more individuals. This was all done with roughly 877,000 pounds less food from the food bank alliances.
“As of right now, the concern has been the food supply,” Vega said. “The quantity and quality of food donations is really low, and we are hoping for a rebound of some sort soon. Everything is more expensive and it’s driving lots of people to food banks and pantries to help with cost and expenses, just to make ends meet.” His team does the best with what they have, and for Nancy, that is enough. Soon she will go to St. Joseph’s again, sit before the Virgin Mary and share her woes, but also gratitude for Son’s graces showered upon her.
During the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, “we celebrated the fact that mercy is a gift to the whole world,” said Father Aarons. It brought to his mind the words from Jesus to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, “Souls who spread the honor of My mercy I shield through their entire lives as a tender mother her infant, at the hour of death I will not be a Judge for them, but the Merciful Savior.”
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, February 27, 2023