Visiting Nicaragua: Faces Reveal Lives of Need and Hope

Msgr. Padraic Loftus is a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He traveled to Nicaragua as part of the CRS Global Fellows program.

My visit to Nicaragua has given me the gift of the faces of the Nicaraguan people. Daily I delight in seeing how easily a smile can break on the face of a person; especially the children. Even though I see extreme poverty, and would imagine that people would wear despondency on their face, I see instead an inner joy that I believe no one can take from these people.

I see faces each day that break my heart. As we sat in a restaurant waiting for lunch to be served, two young boys, probably fourteen or fifteen, approached our table. They were selling bracelets and necklaces that had a beauty about them, but we were not interested in purchasing them. I looked at their faces. They didn’t move away immediately – they lingered and still lingered. I saw disappointment and thought to myself, “How sad that these young boys who were trying to earn a few cordorbas.” And then I put myself in their position, remembering how well off I was at their age attending high school in our town in the west of Ireland. What security I enjoyed! I wondered how they could feel any deep sense of security as they wandered around trying to sell these few ornaments!

Nicaragua boy

A boy in the diocese of Esteli in Nicaragua was among the many who greeted CRS global fellows during their trip to Nicaragua. Photo by Mikaele Sansone/CRS

I saw another face through the bars of the open window of the restaurant. It was the face of an old woman, though I feel she was probably younger than I am. She looked at our table, obviously patiently waiting for food or money. That face is now imprinted indelibly on my memory. It saddened me to think that a woman of her years was so destitute that she had to go about begging simply by the look in her eyes. I couldn’t help but think of my own mother, a woman of unlimited compassion and generosity and placing her in the position of that poor woman.

After lunch we went to the market, and as we entered, an old woman approached me with a basket. She was selling bags of cinnamon for a dollar, with a charming smile on her face. If she was Irish, I would have said, “Her Irish eyes were smiling.” She noticed the little wooden cross I was wearing, a cross that all of us received before we departed the U.S. at our commissioning at CRS Headquarters during Mass. She addressed me as, Padrecito.” Again, it struck me like a sword in the heart to witness where poverty has driven this poor woman. I couldn’t disappoint her. I just gave her a little gift of a few dollars, which provoked another charming smile. I saw her again later as we wandered around the market. She smiled again and said, “Muchas gracias, Padrecito.”

Then, as we got into the bus after visiting the market, a young boy, no more than eight years of age, looked at me in the bus with the most piteous face I think I have ever seen. He held a box with a few trinkets which also looked piteous. Obviously, he was wandering around looking for a few customers. I had to get out of the bus to hand him a few dollars and hopefully brighten his day and his face.

Yet, I believe that hope springs eternally in the human heart, and that these people whose faces saddened me because I perceived them as desperate still have hope that all will be well, and that God will look kindly on them. In fact, I see this happening in the dedication, commitment and unselfish service of Catholic Relief Services, who hosted this learning experience. Catholic Relief Services is holding out profound hope for a better future for the poor of Nicaragua.

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