Quietly, a young religious Sister enters the noisy bar. She belongs to the congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor and she is begging for alms. She stretches her hand out to a man, who is notorious for his hatred of the Church, and he spits in her face, laughing derisively. Quietly, she wipes her face and says, That was for me. Now will you give me something for the poor?The mocking smile dies on the man’s face and his eyes open in wonderment. He asks her pardon and gives – more than she had dared to hope.

Bishop Raul Castillo of La Guaira, Venezuela, is happy to tell people this true story. It takes a lot of courage, he says, to put your dignity in your open hands and beg. But, as he also knows, ‘Christ comes begging with us.’ For here it is about ‘God’s first love, the poor’, as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI puts it in his book on Jesus of Nazareth.

For Bishop Raul, that also includes his priests, religious Sisters and seminarians. And it is they who are combatting the immense spiritual poverty of today, for as Pope Francis says in his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium: ‘The worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care.’

The 19 young men in Saint Peter’s Seminary in La Guaira are well aware of this. They see the poverty in the country, the lack of basic necessities and the widespread violence. They themselves suffer from the same shortages and Bishop Raul has asked for help to provide them with the barest necessities – soap, eggs, milk, flour, paper. As for money, they have none, and in any case it would be of little worth, for inflation here is the highest in the world today.

Money from abroad would help them to address the material needs and at the same time prepare for the growing spiritual need. Many of the seminarians have themselves known past sorrow and suffering.

When Luis Carlos felt the call of God, he was already engaged. The parting was not easy. Fellow seminarian Caesar Rafael suffered cancer of the lymph nodes at the age of 10. He underwent chemotherapy, but then when he was 14 the cancer returned. This time the chemotherapy was followed by radiotherapy. Since then, he seems to have been in good health. He gave up his studies in machine engineering after two years and entered the seminary.

Another student for the priesthood, Esteban Marcanos lost his mother when he was just one year old. He was brought up by his father in his grandparents’ house. Then his father died when he was just 16. Yet he never ceased to believe in God’s love, and today he is training for the priesthood.

No one knows what will happen to this country in the future. But one thing is certain: without the Church the spiritual poverty will continue to increase. Luis, Caesar and Esteban want to combat this with the sacraments, the signs of God’s love.

And this too is what the 20 young men in the seminary of the Mother of the Redeemer in Carupano are preparing for. They also have no fear of the future, although they too lack even the barest necessities.

We have promised to help both Carupano and La Guaira. Our aid will help them towards their goal, expressed in the words of Pope Francis: ‘Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 200).

This article can be found in Mirror 0118.