First published by Catholic Volunteer Network, April 1, 2019
If you had asked me what the meaning of my role within Mission Hospital was when I first started my year of service through the St. Joseph Worker Program of Orange, I would have been left without words. I learned my service site would be at Mission Hospital as a Community Health Advocate halfway through my final semester of college, after meeting a Sister of St. Joseph —Sister Julie—at Xavier University’s Post-Grad Service Fair. I was drawn to the St. Joseph Worker Program because I noticed the CSJ community had a natural yearning for solidarity with the marginalized. Learning of their service opportunities and connecting with Sister Julie made my decision quite simple. While I knew that in one year, I could not solve all of the social justice issues that plague southern California, I did believe that I would be filled with that same spirit of hope and relentless service to the community which I saw in the Sisters of St. Joseph.
Mission Hospital was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ), so I was looking forward to not only be in their volunteer program, but to also work in an environment rooted in the Sisters’ core values and charism. My first impression of my role at Mission Hospital was that I would 1) use my Spanish to help promote health in the Latinx communities, 2) aid in creating a hospital protocol for caregivers who encounter victims of human trafficking, and 3) be of support to the Community Benefit Department. Though all of these tasks are accurate, it soon became clear to me just how special it was to fulfill my multifaceted role.
As a Community Health Advocate, I have been exposed to things that simply cannot be listed in a job description. I have held a mother’s hand as she cried about the abuse her four year-old daughter had been subjected to. I have made a worried little boy laugh as he received a free flu vaccine at one of our flu clinics. I have connected victims of domestic violence to a legal advocate to help them in their case. And my personal favorite, I have empowered community members to take their lives into their own hands – whether that was by casting a vote in the mid-term elections, signing up for a parenting class, or creating a family preparedness plan. What I have found to be most touching has been my ministry of presence to those experiencing difficult times in Orange County. Aside from this work, I have learned firsthand from Sisters of St. Joseph what it means to be an advocate to the marginalized.
As part of Mission Hospital’s Immigrant Support and Solidarity initiative, some of my coworkers and I decided to partner with the Sisters of St. Joseph to plan an Interfaith prayer event for unity. I was amazed by the Sisters’ eagerness to welcome people of all different faiths to foster a culture of harmony. Due to the climate surrounding immigration policy in the United States at this time in history, we all decided that planning this event was vital. We planned it within five weeks; at one point, we genuinely thought we might have to postpone the event until the New Year! But the Sisters of St. Joseph who were involved were particularly hopeful and persistent that NOW was the time. With prayer and teamwork, we hosted the event late November.
On a rainy Thursday evening, about 150 people gathered to pray for unity and for our migrant brothers and sisters. While faith leaders from Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, and Vedanta had the opportunity to voice their prayers, the planning committee also invited two more people to speak. First, an asylum seeker from Haiti was welcomed to share his journey. Secondly, I was given the privilege to round off the diverse panel of speakers before closing the night with song and a final prayer. I have the Sisters of St. Joseph to thank for granting me a voice to explain what unity means to me. These were my words:
“Together we imagine a circle of radical compassion with no one standing outside of it. A circle of peace… A circle in which every voice and every prayer is lifted high for all to hear. My name is Luz and I am a first-generation Mexican-American woman. I have had the privilege of being welcomed into sacred places –Chapels for worship in the mountains of Haiti; Buddhist temples in China; the Cathedral where Oscar Romero is buried in El Salvador; First Baptist Church which was the home for the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, AL; homes of the indigenous peoples of Ollantaytambo, Peru. And now this sacred place with all of you dedicated members of the greater Orange County community. Through these encounters I have seen that within the nature of humanity is an inherent yearning for positive peace. I have realized that solidarity is not looking down to lend a hand up. Solidarity is not forgetting who you are so you can become the other. But solidarity is embracing the complexities of your unique identity and empowering our neighbors experiencing systemic oppression to do the same. Solidarity is inviting all to join in this circle of compassion so that we can live in a just society. The great poet Maya Angelou wrote, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” This is my prayer: that we may come together in unity so that our love can change the world.”
So, as I continue in my work as a St. Joseph Worker, I pray that I can be present to people of all faiths, of all backgrounds, and of all ethnicities. My role continues to expand as I continue to grow into that same spirit of solidarity which the Sisters of St. Joseph exhibit every day.