Sister of Charity of Nazareth Chris Beckett gave a hug to Father Guillermo Campuzano during a break in the sisters’ recent conference, “Partners in Mission: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Violence.” The Vincentian priest served as keynote speaker for the three-day event. Sister Beckett is the president of Presentation Academy. (Photo Special to The Record by Amy Taylor)

NAZARETH, Ky. — When Vincentian Father Guillermo Campuzano was growing up in Colombia, South America, his family was so poor that by Sunday night each week there was very little food for the two adults and eight children around the table, the priest said. Yet he never pitied himself. He never felt he lacked anything.

In fact, “my mother always made us think that Sunday dinner was the best food of the week,” he said. “We had a game — the one who found the piece of tomato in the rice was the winner! We kids always looked forward to Sunday night!”

It was one of many stories that the adjunct professor from DePaul University told the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) during the “Partners in Mission: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Violence” conference, held Nov. 3-5 on the Nazareth campus near Bardstown.

The event was organized by the sisters’ Office of Congregational Ministries. About 50 people attended. They represented SCN ministries in education, health care and social services throughout the U.S.

Father Campuzano asked members of the audience to become “guardians of the night” — people who listen for the cries of those pleading for help in their darkest hours.

As a young priest, he told his listeners, he was serving in a war zone in Colombia. Warriors from one side kidnapped a teen-age boy from the other side. The parents begged the priest to get their son back.

Fresh out of seminary, the new clergyman was puffed up like a peacock with his ideas of his own priestly importance, he said. He traveled to the leader of the kidnappers. He demanded that the man obey.

“I spoke with strength!” he said. “Give me the boy back!”

The leader threw a black bag at the priest, saying, “Take him!” In the bag “I found an 18-year-old boy — cut up in pieces with an electric saw,” the clergyman said.

Father Campuzano took the body to the parents. He wasn’t able to stop a war, he said. He wasn’t able to save a life. He was only able to ensure that two people could bury their child.

That brutal killing taught him humility, he said. In addition, “That night became a powerful metaphor for the work we do. We are invited, in the middle of the night, to put back together the pieces of humanity. As the ‘guardians of the night,’ we must listen for those cries.”

Those who help victims of poverty and violence are brothers and sisters in mission, Father Campuzano said — not just with each other — but also with those they assist.

“Those living in poverty and violence, they make us who we are,” he said. “This is the secret of the Vincentian approach. In helping, we are deeply in touch with our own poverty. In helping, we find our own need for liberation and transformation.”

The clergyman quoted Aboriginal Australian activist Lilla Watson, who wrote:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Being a member of a social class is neither good nor bad, Father Campuzano said. The poor can feel joy. The rich can suffer.

“Having everything is never enough,” he said. “I have probably seen more happiness in the poor than I have in the rich. The poor can find joy with no riches at all.”

The point of life is to learn to love every part of humanity, the priest said. The point is to have “a reconciled heart.”

“Today is a good time to heal your relationships — all of them,” he said. “Hopefully the heart of humanity is healing, and we are beginning to see each other in a different way. The closer we draw to Jesus Christ — the closer we draw to each other.”

The conference at Nazareth offered an opportunity for those brothers and sisters in mission to come together and reflect on their call to serve SCN ministries.

“My hope is that it will spark engagement in the mission in a deep way,” said Sister Michelle Grgurich, the organizer of the event.

For more than 200 years, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth have ministered in the fields of education, health care and social work. With an emphasis on simplicity, humility and charity, the sisters live out their motto: “The Love of Christ Impels Us.”

Since 2009, the Sisters in the U.S. have focused their efforts to help break the chains of poverty and violence through education, advocacy, service and collaboration. This includes the birth of their newest ministry, Doors to Hope in Louisville.

By Amy Taylor, Special to The Record

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