Narratives: Emilio Travieso SJ, Dominican Republic
I will never forget the day it all came together. The place: St. Martin of Porres Parish, comprising two marginalized neighbourhoods in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, a parish that has been a source of life for my Province since a group of Jesuits moved here thirty-six years ago. The scene: an intercultural dance party, organized by the parish’s Haitian Ministry team.
The Haitian Ministry team had carried out an analysis of the situation that Haitian migrants face in their area. In the end, they had decided that of all the issues (health, labour, legal documents, education, violence, etc.), the one that the parish could best address was social exclusion in the neighbourhood. They wanted to create a space where Haitians and Dominicans could come together as neighbours, as a community in which every person is welcome.
As we danced, I contemplated some of the faces in the crowd. An ageing Dominican woman, one of the parish “veterans” who has given her life to building ecclesial base communities, visiting the sick, and participating in social movements over the years… laughing as she learned to dance the Haitian konpa. Two middle-aged Haitian women, who have struggled in vain for years to obtain birth certificates for their Dominican-born children, to no avail despite the support of international human rights organizations, singing along as they danced to a Dominican bachata. A handful of Jesuit scholastics, taking a break from studies to enjoy the moment with friends. And the faces that moved me the most: a group of young Haitian men whom we have been accompanying through JRS, where I work. They courageously stood up against a boss who exploited and humiliated them; the boss reacted with violence, and then fired them unjustly. We had just spent some stressful weeks dealing with the case in hospitals, police stations and labour tribunals. And here were these young workers, the one who had vomited blood from exhaustion at work, the one who had been beaten and had guns put to his head, all unemployed now… and all with radiant, gleeful faces as they danced because the music made them feel at home.
The Kingdom was palpably among us. This experience has stayed with me as a parable of how to live the Resurrection: to let our commitment to justice give weight and history to our joy, and to let the gratuity of community point to something deeper than our crosses and beyond what we can accomplish through our efforts.