Posts Tagged ‘International Samaritan’

The Holy Spirit Drives Jesuit to Serve Garbage Dump Communities

Fr. Don Vettese, SJ, with Calendar, a leader of the garbage dwellers in Panamá.

It is often said that the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways which we are unable to predict or sometimes to even understand. For Jesuit Father Don Vettese what should have been an impediment, a traffic accident, instead opened up the possibility of an even greater calling — to serve the poorest of the poor.

It was 1994 and Fr. Vettese was then president of St. John’s Jesuit High School in Toledo, Ohio.  One day, after his talk with the school’s senior class about the Christian calling to have a preferential option for service to the poor, the students approached Vettese with an idea.

“A few of the students came to my office to explain the difficulty of feeling compassion for the poor without experience,” says Vettese, “and they challenged me to help them educate their hearts.”

It was from that conversation Vettese planned a student service trip to an orphanage he’d founded a few years earlier in Guatemala City.

What Vettese did not know was that this trip would turn into something much greater. One morning, as Vettese and the students  were driving to the orphanage to work , there was a traffic jam resulting from a car accident. When their van was diverted from the main road  they suddenly found themselves in the Guatemala City garbage dump. Here they witnessed a sight that was almost unreal to them: a community of people living, quite literally, in garbage.

“The scene,” Vettese recalls, “was hell. There were acres of mounded garbage burning. There were hundreds of people milling around, looking for food and recyclables, while animals fed on the garbage. Vultures with eight-foot wing spans were swooping down for food and at the recyclers. We saw infants being stuffed into the trash and covered with cardboard to prevent the vultures from hurting them, and later discovered that their mothers felt the dangers from the vulture attacks were more serious than the rat bites that would occur from stuffing them into the garbage.”

Vettese’s talk about Christian leadership came back to the group full-force; that evening, he and the students reflected on the experience of the day, and the students wanted to know what could be done about the plight of the families they’d seen living in the dump. It was that fundamental question which led to the formation of International Samaritan.

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