Some years ago I was part of a youth weekend at Lancing College in England. Their school chapel is a great neo Gothic church perched on the side of a hill. We wanted the young people to understand the poverty in the developing world, so we set them a project: they had to go into the nearby town and beg or borrow or find building materials to make themselves a shelter.
The kids took it in good spirit and soon came back with a rag tag collection of cardboard, old wood, plastic sheeting, rope and what have you. That afternoon they built their shanty village, and in a stroke of genius one of them asked if they could build their houses up against the chapel. Before long there were a collection of cardboard, plastic and tin shacks squatting up against the beautiful Gothic chapel. A good number of the students slept in their shacks that night.
It led to a discussion on the relationship between the rich church of the already developed world and the poor church in the developing world. Who leans on whom? It appeared of course, that the little shanties were leaning against the great rich chapel for support, and of course they were. However, to stand the whole thing on its head, what if the chapel were also leaning against those poor shanties?
Mother Teresa used to talk about the ‘poverty of the rich’ and the ‘wealth of the poor’. We experienced it last week in El Salvador. The simple village Mass in La Herradura was more full of love and power than many a masses I’ve been to. Yes, the altar linens were dirty, the music was a fiddle, an accordian, a guitar and plenty of latin gusto, but the Holy Spirit was present in a way that changed our lives.
I don’t think we gave very much to our good brothers and sisters of El Salvador. Instead they gave us more than I could have imagined.
I lean on them. I hope they do not mind carrying me.
After all, I ain’t heavy. I’m their brother.