I met Jorge Luis in my second grade classroom. He often would come to school late, shirt disheveled, a rip in his pants, hair unkempt, but always had a big grin on his face. During recess, while the other children were dismissed, Jorge Luis was often kept inside to finish up his work and I would usually sit with him while he worked through basic problems the teacher had assigned him.
I had been placed in the second grade classroom as part of my year long experience as a Passionist volunteer in Honduras, and it was though Jorge Luis that I first began to learn about the harsh reality Honduran children (and many other children) live in. I often saw Jorge Luis outside of school, usually walking around the town all alone collecting plastic bottles and other recyclables in hopes of making a little money. Jorge Luis hopped from home to home, amongst his family who lived in the poorest neighborhood in town, because his father was often too drunk to properly care for him. The teacher told me Jorge Luis had been held back from passing second grade because he missed so many classes.
Jorge Luis and I soon become buddies. He would often show up at our house after school to play games or read a book. When we put on the play “Little Red Riding Hood” at school, Jorge Luis volunteered to be the big bad wolf and took great pride in his ability to remember his lines. Most of the time, Jorge Luis didn’t say much, but whenever he saw me he would yell my name and give me a big hug and just stare at me with a big grin on his face. He was one of the hardest people for me to say good-bye to when I left Honduras three years ago.
Yesterday, I saw Jorge Luis again. I had been traveling in Honduras for a few days and when I asked around for him, I was heartbroken with every response: “Anda en la calle bien peridido (He is a lost street child), ya no va a escuela (he doesn’t go to school anymore), ha agarrado los vicios como marijuana y el thinner (he has started to do bad things like smoke marijuana and inhale paint thinner), y tambien anda bien bolo (and he will get drunk).” And yesterday, from the back of a pick up truck, I saw him, sitting on a bench with teenagers nearly twice his age, barely able to sit up. I shouted his name, he looked up, eyes glazed, and shouted my name back, and this time it was me who stared at him as the truck slowly meandered its way up the bumpy dirt road.
I think of Jorge when I read today’s first reading, and Ezekiel relies God’s anger at the shepherds who have not tended their sheep, who have only used them for their wool and milk, and because of this “they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts.” It pains me to see children so young and innocent, who have nobody to care for them, being preyed on by the beasts in our world. It seems impossible that in a few short years Jorge went from being the little 8 year old boy dressed up in the big bad wolf costume to being the 11 year old that had been consumed by the “wolves” in his own neighborhood – the drug dealers and the thieves. It made me realize the responsibility we all have to shepherd each other, tend to the needs of the vulnerable, and leads those astray back on track.
Though God promises to save his sheep, to protect them from harm, seeing Jorge reminded me that we must all take a moment and reflect on how we shepherd the most vulnerable among us. Do we simply pasture ourselves or do we reach out to the sick, vulnerable, poor, lost, lonely people in our lives and seek to care for them?
- Jean Baumgardner, 2009-2010 Passionist Volunteer International in Honduras, is presently a graduate student at the Seattle University to become a Family Nurse Practitioner.