The Very Work of Hope

Madeleine Delbrêl was a young French poet and atheist who underwent a radical conversion to Catholicism when she was 20, and that led her to found, in 1933, a gospel community of lay women dedicated to poverty, chastity, and work among the poor. She’s often compared with her American contemporary, Dorothy Day. The introduction to her extraordinary book of powerful reflections, We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, contained an observation of a poor woman of the streets who offered a vivid description of her:

“If you are destitute, broken, wounded, or if you have suffered an injustice, her eyes widen and grow dark blue, almost black; her entire body stiffens, as if getting ready to make a move, to act, to defend.” The woman goes on to say, “And you have to give your assent, because what she does is truly the most important activity in the world, and you yourself have already been its beneficiary: she is digging holes with a child’s pail in the vast sand of human suffering, in order to bring forth springs that will never run dry. It is, indeed, the very work of Hope.”

In those words I hear an echo of Pax et Bonum Communications’ mission: to make films that defend the destitute, broken and wounded…and to offer hope to a suffering world. Despite that lofty goal, I’m fully aware of how insignificant we are. We are so small and inconsequential we don’t even have to try to be humble. We work very hard and with inadequate funding in order to change a few hearts, to offer a little hope. We have no big distribution deals, no TV broadcast dates. We have only enough funds in the bank to cover the next five months of operating costs. We live by faith, on the edge of extinction. Besides making films, I give about a dozen presentations a year at universities and churches. For instance, in 2012 during the last four weeks of Lent, I gave my “poverty and prayer” presentations at churches, high schools and colleges in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rochester, New York, Bloomington, Illinois, Los Angeles and Chicago. During those nine events, about 3,325 teenagers and adults heard our message. Still, sometimes I think it’s not worth the Herculean effort…and all the time spent in airports and on planes. But I quickly realize our job is not to judge the fruits of our labor, but simply to work, to faithfully and diligently plant seeds…and leave the rest to God. For me, these films, including the new films set in a refugee camp in Kenya, in the slums of Honduras, and in a home for sick kids in Peru, are the most important activity in the world, because I believe God has called me to make them, to give voice to the voiceless, to give hope to the hopeless. The struggle against injustice is intertwined with our own struggle to enter into a true and full relationship with God. I pray that when people look at the work of the PetB, they may say, “Theirs is the very work of Hope.” And our work will be judged not by how many films we sold (only about a thousand in the last four years), but how faithful our films were to the Gospel. The Gospel is an urgent call to radicalism: to love all, without exception, without counting the cost.

And now we will be doing more than putting the power of film at the service of the poor…we will actually be serving poor children in Haiti. We are about to expand our ministry by opening a day care center in a slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti which will be named the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. During research trips to Haiti in May and June, we have determined the location and found a building that will house this exciting new outreach to the impoverished children in one destitute neighborhood. I will be returning to Haiti on July 4th. We hope to be able to open the center in the Spring of 2016. Between now and then, there is much work to be done and money to be raised. Meanwhile, in early September we will be releasing our epic film on the life and spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi which is based on my new book, The Loneliness and Longing of Saint Francis, which recently was honored with an award from the Catholic Publisher’s Association. By God’s unmerited grace, we continue to be a voice speaking out on behalf of the poor. Your prayerful support is needed and deeply appreciated. We are a 501(c)3 public charity.


1 Response to “The Very Work of Hope”

  1. 1 krebsjoan June 29, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Gerry I read this on the same day that a couple of news items hit home, one from the USA and the other from a European multinational coast guard rescue mission. The USA one had to do with Donald Trump’s horrendous rant against immigrants/immigration. The other had to do with one cooperative mission to save over 6900 refugees abandoned by their smugglers and on the way to Europe (If I remember correctly the nations involved in this rescue effort probably numbered 5 or 6. The receiving country, of course, became Italy. Talk about “Give me your tired; your hunger; your poor….” 6900 in one reach-out over there – and then there are people like Donald Trump blaming all that’s bad on migrants here….

    Another story not making it to the top of popular attention was the one emanating from Syria: that King Assad probably has plans to use chemical weapons if attempts to retake some territory occur (Aleppo? Damascus? I can’t remember but it shows a similar attitude toward people not ourselves: superiority and it’s logical followthrough when encounters occur. How can this be possible?

    The final story has to do with Sr. Helen Prejean’s lament after today’s Supreme Court decision. She is spiritual advisor to one of the men whose execution dates are once again now being slated and whose innocence she feels…. She is spiritual advisor to a female in a different state, now hospitalized with probably a terminal illness She had been spiritual advisor to a man in New Orleans. Recent backstory: after many years of imprisonment and life on death row he was exonerated and released in 2014. Several people including one young dear CSJ lawyer friend of mine supported him in the early days of release (Sr, Helen asked Alison to take on dutyof spiritual advisor also) until he contracted a very aggressive cancer. Then they moved into caretaker mode and then into hospice. Today he died while with them. These people keep love alive; hope also. I am so lucky to know people like Helen and Alison. Because Helen’s e-mail carried much in the way of lament between the lines I assured her the prayer lamps would be lit. Take care, Gerry. Cathy & I think of your trip, your work, your desires, your mission. That prayer lamp is lit for you and yours also. Yours, Joan

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